Last Saturday was a great day for a march. No rain. Not too hot, not too cold. I was standing among a crowd near San Francisco’s City Hall attending a rally and waiting for the fourth annual Women’s March to begin.
As we waited, a group of indigenous women, who would eventually lead the march, stood in formation on Grove Street. With strips of black linen covering their eyes, the women moved back and forth in unison as they chanted the Chilean anti-rape protest anthem, “Un Violador en Tu Camino” or “A Rapist in Your Path.” Some held signs calling attention to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada. It was a powerful performance, and a reminder of why we were all there — to stand up for women and women’s rights that are under attack.
Then the drums at the front of the march began to beat, their rhythmic sound demanding attention, and we were off.
Within minutes of the start, two young men with bikes provided an unwelcome illustration of male privilege. The two wanted to cross Grove where it joins Market Street. But thousands of women were now walking on Grove. The young men started to cross the street anyway, holding their bikes up like shields, forcing marchers to stop or move around them as the two pushed through the crowd. They had no look of apology, said no words of thanks. They couldn’t be bothered to go a block out of their way to avoid inconveniencing the marchers.
But, for the most part, the mood was festive. The pink knitted caps that have become synonymous with the Women’s March were everywhere. People lined Market Street, watching, smiling and cheering. Nearly every spectator held up a cellphone, recording the procession for social media.
It was reassuring to see a lot of children marching with their parents. Two young girls, maybe 7 years old, carried signs as big as they were. The girls were clearly still learning march etiquette, as they kept accidentally hitting people with their signs, despite one mom’s constant encouragement to watch out for people close to them. Another, older girl’s sign read: “Today I march. In 6 years I vote.”
There were a lot of men marching, too. I even saw a fair number of dogs. A golden retriever, wearing a bandana that said “Feminist,” walked next to a sign that said: “Even my dog knows that No means No.”
Many of the signs were directed at President Donald Trump, whose election triggered the first Women’s March, held the day after his inauguration: “Dump Trump. Grab him by the ballot,” “Make America Kind Again” and “Vote Blue No Matter Who.”
Occasionally, chants rose up from the crowd: “No Means No,” “Stand Up, Fight Back,” and, in a shout-out to Speaker Pelosi, “Go Get Him Nancy.” As we passed Kearny Street, a band on the sidewalk played “Dancing Queen.”
Organizers said 12,000 people marched in San Francisco this year. That’s significantly less than the 100,000 who marched the first year. Indeed, every year there have been fewer people taking part in the Women’s March, both here and nationwide.
Some of that is due to conflict among the national group that organizes the march. And some of it may be because people have found other ways to make their point, like working on political campaigns.
But some of it can be attributed to people just being exhausted. There is so much to protest — immigration, war with Iran, climate change, impeachment. It’s just too hard to go to every march on every issue.
But don’t confuse exhaustion with giving up. People, especially women, will show up when it matters most — on election day.
The no-shows at the Women’s March did, however, miss the chance to feel uplifted and optimistic, the result of walking in a large group of like-minded people on a great day for a march.
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.