More than 15,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Santa Ana Saturday in the second Women’s March protest, joining hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in separate marches in cities throughout the country.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in Orange County,” 81-year-old Irvine resident Marilyn Vassos said.
Vassos, who said she’s been politically active since the Vietnam War, said she hopes the march -- and demonstrations like it -- will inspire people to get involved locally.
“I like the energy created here …,” she said. “I hope they go home and do something about it.”
The racially and ethnically diverse marchers, many wearing the pink “Pussyhats” made famous by the first Women’s March last January, carried signs including “Resist!” and “This Pussy Grabs Back and Votes!”
They gathered near a stage on Flower and 6th Streets, close to the Orange County Sheriff's Department headquarters and the county’s Central Courthouse. The march, in sunny, cool weather, started shortly after 10 a.m. and protesters marched east on Civic Center Drive to Main Street, south onto 5th Street, west into Santa Ana Boulevard and circled back up Flower Street to the stage.
When the front of the march completed the circle and reached the starting point around 11 a.m., the protestors at the end of the march were just starting their route. The end of the 15,000-plus march caught up with the rest shortly before 11:30 a.m.
There were no arrests or reports of vandalism, Santa Ana Police Commander Ken Gominksy said. Gominksy estimated the crowd to be anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people.
“It was a peaceful event,” Gominsky said, adding police had no issues with protestors not following the route or the rules.
The march took place on the one year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Many of the protesters were unhappy with the administration’s policies which they said unfairly target women and minorities.
Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton was at the front of the march and spoke to the crowd from the stage before the march started, encouraging everyone to vote and stand up for equal rights.
Various chants broke out during the march, from “Whose streets? Our streets!” to “Stand up, fight back!” and “Women united will never be divided!”
Unite Here local 11 union President Ada Briceno, who represents over 23,000 service industry employees, said she hopes events like these inspire not just women, but everyone -- especially in underrepresented communities -- to show up at the polls and vote. United Here helped put together the march in conjunction with many other groups including Planned Parenthood, North Orange County Democratic Club and Indivisible OC.
“We’re standing up against sexual harassment by going to the voting box -- that’s very important,” Briceno said. “I got chills throughout my body seeing so many of us out here, of different colors … I think we were successful,” Briceno said.
Over 150 organizations showed up and more than 377 volunteers helped direct the march to make sure protesters stayed on the route, according to organizers. Santa Ana Police blocked off intersections and directed traffic. There also were horse-mounted officers patrolling up and down the marching route.
“Today we march, tomorrow we vote. We need to look this beautiful in November and continue the energy … making sure we bring up the issues that are important to us,” Briceno said. “We’re coming up on 2020, so it’s really important. We can’t get enough of our voices out there.”
Vassos echoed Briceno and said she hopes the march will energize people to vote in the primaries, but is concerned the Congressional races have been flooded with too many Democrats, which could hand the Republicans an election victory.
Under California’s top-two primaries, the two candidates who get the most votes will advance to the November general election, regardless of political party. The various Democratic candidates in the four Congressional districts could splinter the Democratic vote enough to allow two Republicans to win the primary.
“Right now, the big thing is Representatives … I’ve never had a Democratic representative,” said Vassos, who’s lived in Orange County for over 50 years.
Earlier this month Representatives Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Darrell Issa (R-Vista) said they will not seek reelection in 2018. After their announcements, some GOP candidates stepped forward, including big names like Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, former Assemblywoman Young Kim and former Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff.
Fullerton School District Board Member Jeanette Vazquez said while the Congressional Races are important, people also need to focus on local government. “This is where it all starts,” she said.
“How are we making sure we’re not just putting accountability at the White House? Because there’s things we can do locally to bring more equity and justice in our backyard,” the 28-year -old Vazquez said.
Vazquez, an Anaheim elementary school teacher, is an active voice in Fullerton’s Latino community and authored a district elections map that was strongly backed by the minorities there, but the Fullerton City Council instead chose a map drawn up by a bar owner.
“Our kids need us to do things now. There is no time,” Vazquez said, adding her students have expressed concerns about Trump’s “racist comments,” the rising costs of rent in the county and the lack of good paying jobs.
Menifee resident Danielle Gonzalez, who works with Riverside County’s mental health department, said the march encouraged her to do more in her community.
“It made me want to do more groups. More discussions on minority struggles -- just really emphasize how this government is really impacting all of us. Seeing all walks of life and seeing how much the administration is affecting so many different people … it was really enlightening and makes me want to do more,” said 21-year-old Gonzalez.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.