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Thousands gather to march against Trump, inspire change with female leadership

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Participants cheer while listening to speakers in front of City Hall at the Women’s March on Saturday. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, prompting tens of thousands of women and their supporters to take to the streets in a show of continued opposition to the controversial leader.

The second annual Women’s March began as a peaceful noon rally at the Civic Center Plaza and ended with a march to the Embarcadero, causing the closure of Market Street between 10th and Steuart streets until late in the afternoon. Organizers of this year’s event said they expected at least 80,000 participants.

Just as in the previous year, pink “pussyhats” and protest signs inscribed with a seemingly endless supply of Trump puns speckled the crowd on Saturday, as participants shared their discontent with Trump’s policies that have included attacks on women’s rights.

But by many accounts, the tone at this year’s Women’s March shifted from one of outrage and dissent to calls for decisive action, specifically through increased voter participation and greater female representation in local and federal government.

“Our worst fears have come true — this administration is destroying our country, so it’s not enough to stand up and say, ‘We disagree with you’,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “Now, we have to act to make the change. That starts with voting, but it doesn’t end there.”

Genevieve Martin holds a handmade sign down Market Street during Saturday’s Women’s March. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

From volunteer-run voter registration booths set up near the steps of City Hall to signs that read “Watch us march, watch us run,” a sense of urgency around voter participation in upcoming elections and the development of female leaders emerged as clear themes of this year’s event.

Holding a sign that read “Female president in 2020,” Women’s March participant Hillary Blythe said that a woman’s rise to the nation’s highest office is “long overdue.”

“Women come at everyday policies from a different viewpoint than men do — we are much more collaborative, we are concerned about families, jobs, housing, education, safety — and those issues need to come to the forefront,” she said. “The only way that’s going to happen is if we have a female in the White House.”

That sentiment appeared to have crossed generational lines.

Expressing her disappointment with how “Trump has been handling things,” 16-year-old Kinga Bihari said that in the next presidential and congressional elections, she would hope for the rise of “women and more people who support women’s rights in our government.”

“I think women have more compassion and we aren’t given enough credit because we haven’t been seen in the government,”  she said.

Saturday’s march saw no shortage of male allies. San Mateo resident Woodson Martin attended the march armed with a protest sign that read, “Stop electing dicks, vote for women.”

“It’s [a message] that basically everyone can agree with — we need reasonable human beings that have compassion for other people in public office,” Martin said about his sign. “ I think one of the best ways to do that is to vote for women.”

In San Francisco, women already serving in public office have repeatedly voiced — and acted upon — their commitment to resisting regressive federal policies over the past year.

Ronen said that since Trump’s rise to presidency, she has prioritized protecting women and immigrant rights. She spearheaded the roll-out of a new program this month that offers medical and social services to sex workers in the Mission District, and has inspired change in policing practices and around the prosecution of sex workers citywide — “A big victory for women’s rights” locally, she said. Alongside fellow Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, Ronen has also focused her efforts around working to “that make sure that all immigrants have [legal] representation in The City.”

On Friday, Acting Mayor London Breed also stated her commitment to protecting vulnerable immigrant communities targeted by Trump, including allocating additional funds to immigrant legal service providers.

But the work to change a male-dominated narrative in society doesn’t end with the election of women to positions of power, several Women’s March participants pointed out.

“When women do get into these powerful leadership positions, they need to be supported,” said Alameda resident Fallon Keys.

As executive director of The City’s Coalition on Homelessness, Jennifer Friedenbach has been at the front lines of helping thousands of San Franciscans overcome poverty.

Over the past year, the coalition has managed to allocate some 700 housing subsidies to homeless households, and is heading into 2018 with the goal of turning “the Trump corporate tax cut into a revenue source to create housing,” she said.

Men can be allies in the struggle for female empowerment by taking on non-traditional gender roles and by ensuring women’s “voices are heard,” said Friedenbach, adding that in her own life, having “a super supportive partner” has allowed her to devote herself fully to her advocacy.

“There are personal things we can do for eachother — like watching each other’s children — that allow women to be activists,” she said, adding that men can support women by making sure “that our voices are heard.”

“So often in a sexist society there’s a lot of pushback any time women push forward, so we have to be very conscious and call [sexism] out when we see it,” she said.

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