Women’s march focuses on electoral politics after a year of Trump, outrage

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Women and their allies again take to the streets this weekend in dozens of cities across the country

Nina Agrawal, Jenny Jarvie, Dakota Smith and Laura King, The Los Angeles Times

A year after a sea of knitted pink “pussyhats” greeted Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president, women and their allies again took to the streets this weekend in dozens of cities across the country, voicing anger, channeling hopes and considering how the country has fared in the year after one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent memory.

Organizers and many participants say the tone has shifted from Jan. 21, 2017, when the millions of women who turned out to march — in Washington, nearly every major American city and as far away as Australia and Europe — shocked even those who had organized the protests.

Sheer size yielded a cultural moment, one that became part of a wider social reckoning that would coalesce months later into the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements demanding accountability for sexual misconduct.

In many quarters, last year’s largely spontaneous outpouring of outrage over a president who had bragged of sexually assaulting women is giving way to a determined focus on electoral politics — together with targeted activism on issues such as immigration, health care and deepening racial divides, all of which became contentious points of debate during Trump’s first year in office.

Some marchers have described newfound political activism, even if only in small steps. Judy Lamb, a retired public-school teacher in Mission Viejo, Calif., said that for the first time, she’s regularly contributing money to the Democratic National Committee and calling her congresswoman, Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., to urge her to vote against Trump’s policies.

Lamb planned to wear the same anti-Trump T-shirt in Saturday’s march in Santa Ana that she put on a year ago when she protested with hundreds of thousands of others in downtown Los Angeles.

“I’m just very disappointed,” Lamb said of the president’s first year in office, citing racially charged remarks by Trump and the uncertain fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers protection for people brought illegally to the United States as children.

Organizers are hoping to see newfound activism play out on a far larger scale, with November’s midterm elections as a lodestar.

“We had to work over the course of the year to build a movement that was going to be translated into political power at the polls in 2018,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the main New York-based organizers behind last year’s marches.

This year, Women’s March Inc. spearheaded a broad campaign focused on voter registration, increasing voter engagement and turnout, electing progressive candidates to office, especially women, and targeting swing districts.

Trump’s unlikely success emboldened some female candidates who might not otherwise have run for office, said Erin Vilardi, the founder and executive director of VoteRunLead, which trains women to run for political office.

“Seeing someone so unqualified become president of the United States, a lot of women said, ‘Hell, I can do city council,’ ” Vilardi said.

The push by those who feel targeted or marginalized by Trump to seek elective office is already yielding something of a sea change in deeply Republican states like Georgia and Alabama. In Doraville, Ga., a diverse city in the northeast suburbs of Atlanta, Stephe Koontz was elected last year as a city councilwoman, becoming the state’s first openly transgender elected official.

Koontz, a retired car mechanic and business owner, said she was inspired, in part, by the women’s march last year. Until then, she said, every time she talked about running, friends would tell her: “You can’t run. You’re transgender — you’re unelectable.”

“I came away believing in myself that I could do this,” Koontz said. “It was a shift from pessimism to optimism, just seeing all these people who believed the same as I did: that what we were seeing is not the new normal, and we are ready for change.”

For some, this weekend’s protests are a moment to consider the ever-tightening entwinement of the personal and the political. Among them are women like Samantha Imhoff, a Guyanese immigrant who works as a medical assistant in New York City.

Trump’s presidency and the activism it inspired, Imhoff said, have changed how she navigates her home and work life — even if the demands of her job, her weekly nursing classes, and caring for her husband and two children didn’t grant her the luxury of time to march last year.

“I realized I can speak up,” Imhoff said. As an example, she described challenging her husband, who is also Guyanese, after finding out that he had begun looking on his own for a family house.

“I was upset — and I said so. I said, ‘You cannot keep making decisions on your own,’ ” she said. Contrite, he began talking with her about the search, showing her pictures of prospective homes. They’re moving in this weekend to one they picked out together.

At work, too, Imhoff said she has demanded fair treatment for some of her colleagues who struggle with English.

“Even in your own small speaking up — I see it as a rebellion,” she said.

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