LOS ANGELES — On Inauguration Day, the skies cleared for a brief respite between the powerful rain storms that have been pounding Southern California for over a week now, welcome to our parched soil and promising to end our years-long drought, but also leading to flooding and mudslides. During that window on Friday, in the hours just after the installation of a new president in Washington, D.C., an intrepid gathering of perhaps a thousand people flowed in to downtown from different tributary marches to mass in front of City Hall. This day would not pass unmarked!
A sound stage with a DJ supported a succession of speakers who, in brief speeches, expressed their repugnance at Trump and his agenda. A plethora of signs announced the participation of a wide range of interests and groups. Hernán, a worker who was helping to hold up a banner from the United Union of Roofers and Waterproofers and Allied Workers, known as Roofers Local 36, said he approved of the weather: “This rain is a blessing for all unions!” Asked why he was out there with his union brothers and sisters, he said: “Everybody’s got each other’s back here — if we all stick together we’ll get what we want.”
Two speakers promoted their candidacy for the U.S. House seat now being vacated by Rep. Xavier Becerra, who has been tapped by Gov. Jerry Brown to become California’s next attorney general. Arturo Carmona, a Bernie Sanders supporter who served as a deputy national political director for Our Revolution, reminded the crowd that CD 34 in central L.A. is a majority people of color district. “Our campaign office will be a sanctuary for any DACA student,” he promised.
Kenneth Mejía, 26, is also running for that seat, which so far has 18 contestants. He’s the only Green Party candidate, and also ran in the 20126 Democratic primary as a write-in candidate.
Rev. James Harris of the National Action Network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, spoke out to Trump: “We stand together to question the legitimacy of your presidency!” Among other demands he named, he said, “Women should be paid the whole damn dollar,” which echoed excitedly through the crowd. He involved the authority of Jesus to back up his pro-people stance: “They try to make him one of the one percent, but he hung out with the lowest of the low.”
Some speakers, such as Daniel Montes from the Unión del Barrio, spoke skeptically about the political leaders who are now declaring their towns sanctuary cities, but who did nothing while three million undocumented immigrants were deported by a Democratic president. He led the chant “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos / y si nos echan regresamos!” (Here we are and we’re not going / throw us out and we’ll come back). These demonstrators did not appear to favor Hillary Clinton much, either.
Marcus, an African American man who came up from San Diego for the day whom I met leaving the demonstration, expressed surprise at so many white people in the crowd. Why? I asked. Because a majority of white voters voted for Trump, he said. But this was not the case in Los Angeles.
Women’s marchers “get out of hand”
The Women’s March on Washington / Los Angeles took place on Saturday, in solidarity with an estimated four million marchers in cities, towns and hamlets across the country (representing about one percent of all Americans) and in many countries abroad. People streamed into L.A. from miles around, clogging public transport systems, making for many late arrivals in a constant flow well into the afternoon. Numerous local marches in smaller communities took place as well.
Estimates for the L.A. march ranged up to 750,000 marchers, as reported by NBC. A team of policemen on bicycles whom I questioned at the end of the day told me they had originally just planned to close off Broadway for the march to City Hall, but “it got out of hand” and officials decided to shut down all of downtown to accommodate the massive turnout. For a radius of some seven blocks around City Hall, Los Angeles became one huge pedestrian mall. The people truly owned the streets.
Many marchers expected to hook up with their political groups or fellow union or church members, but the numbers overwhelmed any neat sense of proceeding in an organized lineup. Banners would have been invisible amidst the gentle crush of friendly people. So people marched with their family members — a lot of kids experienced their first protest that day — or with the friends they came with. Many others, such as myself, just joined in wherever we could, struck up friendly conversations along the route, buoyed up by the warm solidarity.
The mood was with without exception one of mutual support — for women, for the LGBTQ and immigrant communities, for working people, for the environment, and for basic concepts such as resistance, people’s power, justice and democracy. The crowd was fairly balanced between women and men, maybe a few percentage points tilted toward women. For this day the “powers that be” auspiciously rolled out a beautiful, sunny sky, making possible the largest possible turnout.
Speakers included Barbra Streisand, Natalie Portman, Jane Fonda and Miley Cyrus. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other elected officials also took the podium exhorting the crowds to reject the Trump agenda. There were no acts of violence or destruction, no arrests, and the streets remained remarkably free of trash.
Aside from the ubiquitous “pussyhats,” the t-shirts and signage provided much of the inspiration for the day. A few samples:
“I love my country but fear my government”
“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”
“Respeta mi existencia o espera resistencia” (Respect my existence or expect resistance)
“Tolerance isn’t enough — we must embrace each other”
“Bad hombres support nasty women”
“We will not go gently into the 1950s”
“Climate change is real — we are not ovary-acting”
“Make empathy great again”
“Abort unwanted presidencies”
“The power of the people is stronger than the people in power”
And on a sign picturing a fist-raising Indigenous elder, “We the resilient have been here before.”
Americans can be confident that the majority who did not vote for this president are in motion and are ready to be mobilized for the next steps. There are 36 governors’ races between now and Election Day 2018, the states being where a lot of mischief takes place, such as gerrymandering and voter suppression. Republicans had better watch their seats if they cast their votes against this aroused, engaged citizenry.
More photos from Los Angeles can be seen on the People’s World Facebook page.