Santa Cruz group launches local affiliate of Women’s March on Washington

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SANTA CRUZ >> The post-national election consolation get-together was supposed to be just a few friends seated comfortably together at Maria Boutell’s Eastside home.

By the time she and several other Santa Cruz women finished throwing together the event and tallying RSVPs a few days later, Boutell and friends realized “this is bigger than her living room.”

Some 102 women, one man and a handful of children converged on a Gault Elementary School meeting space two weeks ago for the first organizational meeting of the Women’s March on Washington — Santa Cruz County affiliate.

Boutell said it was a “no-brainer” to bring the effort to Santa Cruz, once she discovered it. The movement, though by name focuses on women, is meant to be inclusive to all whose rights are endangered, Boutell said. She is the daughter-in-law of Sentinel columnist Peter Boutell.

“I think this is a time to really educate ourselves and really hear others’ voices and where they come from,” said Boutell, 48.

Leading up to the Santa Cruz meeting, organizers said those who had not voted for President-elect Donald Trump had begun to worry about which of the potentially discriminatory policies he had touted on the campaign trail would be enacted in the next four years.

“During his campaign, Trump has taken positions that will affect the rights of almost everybody,” said group co-organizer Erica Aitken, 62. “The rights of foreigners, the rights of people with specific religions that he doesn’t like, the rights of people with sexual orientations that he doesn’t like, definitely reproductive rights. It would be a shame that it stopped at the march.”

Maryanne Campbell, co-president of Gault’s Parent Teacher Organization, said she has heard through social media anecdotal reports of racism in local schools in recent months.

“It’s really distressing that this is happening here, in Santa Cruz, with people hiding behind Instagram accounts and leaving messages on kids’ lockers,” said Campbell, 45. “It’s here. Imagine what it’s like in states where those kids are even more of a minority, what they’re facing. Definitely, the Band-Aid has been ripped off and it’s, in a sense, an open wound.”

The Nov. 20 organizational meeting at Gault drew attendees together to share testimonials about similar personal fears and worries, seek solace and begin to forge a new path toward action. Speakers included Mayor Cynthia Mathews, who helped launch the local Planned Parenthood office in 1971, psychotherapist and former Santa Cruz City Schools trustee Cynthia Hawthorne and Jenny Sarmiento, Watsonville planning commissioner and former CEO of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance.

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The most immediate goal the group is rallying around is the Women’s March on Washington, set for the day after the presidential inauguration, on Jan. 21. Simultaneously, the Santa Cruz affiliate plans to host a march locally, through downtown, and is working on obtaining permits and an endpoint rally location. Organizers say they hope their efforts do not conclude with the march, as they believe a place to unify and organize will continue to be a need in the coming years.

Similar Women’s March affiliates have sprung up around the country under the banner of the national effort.

The movement’s name takes a page from the iconic and empowering Oct. 16, 1995 Million Man March on the National Mall, organized by the controversial Nation of Islam figure Louis Farrakhan to promote African American unity and family values.

For Hawthorne, 65, who has joined the organizational efforts, Trump’s political plans appear to be taking aim directly at women. She said this is not the first president’s whose policies have caused her sleepless nights.

“As a lesbian, what we know is those are not presidents who are friendly to our communities. What we learned to do last time was, first you breathe and then you reach out and make alliances. And then you unite, and then you fight to protect the things you believe in,” Hawthorne said. “You fight to protect others, because none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.”

Santa Cruz Sentinel