Politics & Government

Californians find solace in huge turnout at Women’s March in D.C.

Calif. Sen. Kamala Harris: Fight we will do, fight we will win

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) spoke on Saturday during the Woman's March on Washington to a crowd of thousands.
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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) spoke on Saturday during the Woman's March on Washington to a crowd of thousands.

San Joaquin Valley resident Kathleen McKinley knows about dramatic staging, and she got it in spades with the Women’s March on Saturday.

A director and member of the Theatre Arts faculty at California State University, Fresno, McKinley joined several hundred thousand equally exuberant demonstrators in Washington, D.C. for several hours of real-world catharsis. It proved a once-in-a-lifetime, standing-room-only performance.

“It’s person, to person, to person,” McKinley reported shortly after noon. “You can barely move around.”

Donning pink hats and braving uncomfortably jam-packed conditions, other Californians, too, helped swell the gathering on the National Mall one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. They included the likes of Fresno-area nursing student Vanessa Brown, Nevada City teacher Donna Decker and, from Tracy, the wife-and-husband team of Robin and Henry Cole.

Estimated by the District of Columbia government at upwards of 500,000, the crowd size appeared to surpass that for Trump’s swearing-in. Metro trains were far busier than comparable trains Friday, with the mood combining costume-wearing festivity with vocal political activism.

“It was just a wildly successful grassroots event,” McKinley said. “There was a river of people . . . it was elbow to elbow.”

McKinley flew to Washington on Monday along with Fresno attorney Patience Milrod. Saturday morning, she attended an Equal Rights Amendment breakfast reception hosted by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, at the Rayburn House Office Building. Later, amid the confining crowds gathered outside the Capitol, speakers such as California’s freshman Democratic senator, Kamala Harris, held forth.

The crowds were such that McKinley and Milrod didn’t get close enough to hear Harris say that the nation is at a defining moment in its history, comparing now to the 1960s when her parents met as civil rights activists at the University of California-Berkeley.

“This is at that moment in time for our country, when we are collectively looking in the mirror and with furrowed brow, asking this question, who are we?” Harris said.

Nursing student Vanessa Brown was in another part of the crowd, which she described at one point as “crazy right now.” She’d planned to attend the march with her mother, Fresno attorney Pat Brown, who on Friday exclaimed that she “wouldn’t miss it for all the world.”

Circumstances soured, though, as the senior Brown’s arthritis forced her to rent a wheelchair, which she couldn’t navigate through a Metro system where some elevators weren’t working. She ended up having to watch the march on a small screen in Lothian, Maryland, about 24 miles from the action.

“Devastated,” Brown said of her feelings about missing the march. “I overcame many obstacles – poor health, finances and 3,000 miles – to get here.”

At the same time, Brown vowed to continue on with her fight once back home.

Decker, the teacher from Nevada City, said she flew across the country, in part, to raise her spirits following the election.

“We in California hated how our votes were crushed because of electoral college system,” she said. “Iam here to speak for everyone who felt their vote did not count.”

Robin Cole said she’s concerned about women’s health and health care in general during a Trump administration, with the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act. As a Californian, she said, she also fears a weakening of environmental laws protecting the water and air.

“I felt it was important to show that the majority of people are good people, who care about the rights of everyone, and that those rights need to be protected,” Cole said. “The economy is important, but we have to breathe to make money.”

Sean Cockerham contributed to this story.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10