Santa Maria gets its first-ever Women's March

Women are the wall and Trump will pay!” read the sign Santa Maria resident Rochelle Reed held high as she walked away from Buena Vista Park, down South Broadway, and toward Minami Park, where a resource fair with free bottles of water, music, and food trucks awaited the energized marcher and others like her.

click to enlarge Santa Maria gets its first-ever Women's March
VOICES HEARD: Santa Maria hosted its first-ever Women’s March from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 19. Dozens of attendees gathered first at Buena Vista Park for a rally, which included fiery speeches from several locals, including City Councilmember Gloria Soto. Marchers walked down South Broadway to Minami Park, where a resource fair, food trucks, and a DJ were waiting.

It was a path scores of residents walked before noon on Jan. 19 as part of Santa Maria’s first-ever Women’s March, which coincided with thousands of similar marches across the nation. San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara hosted like-minded events that day, but Reed said she’d already gone to those in past years, and was glad to finally have the opportunity to march through her own town.
“I’m really excited,” she said, lowering her sign and keeping pace with the rest of the crowd as she talked. “I definitely would have gone to one here if they’d had it before.”
Cathy Castro, another local who walked alongside Reed, agreed, and said she was proud to see her city finally getting involved, two years after the first series of marches were held all over the world in 2017. Reed and Castro both grew up on the Central Coast, live in Santa Maria now, and said that without a march in Santa Maria the past two years, they traveled miles out of town to participate.
“It’s wonderful to have one in our own city,” Castro said.
That weariness of being overlooked and left out was the catalyst for this year’s march in Santa Maria, according to Daisy Basulto, who helped organize the event along with a core group of a few other locals who’ve been planning since February 2018.
Basulto, who also works full time as a programs coordinator at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, previously attended marches in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as well. Both were inspiring experiences, Basulto said. At the march in San Luis Obispo, it unexpectedly poured rain, but she said hundreds of Central Coast residents took to the streets anyway, chanting, protesting, and laughing through the weather.
Still, Basulto said despite being geographically close, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Maria aren’t at all the same—not demographically, economically, or politically—and in many ways, she said Santa Marians have more to fight for.
“So it’s time that we stop going somewhere else and start staying in town and being a voice,” Basulto said.
When some other local organizers said they wanted to put together a Women’s March in town, Basulto jumped at the idea. She’s always enjoyed being an organizer and advocate, especially when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.
The year-long planning process came with its fair share of surprises, Basulto said, even for a seasoned community organizer like herself. Some, including the approval process for street closures and park permits, were challenging surprises. Others—like the sheer volume of support, from city officials to labor union leaders—were the best kind of surprises.
“We thought we were going to have to really push back, and we thought we were going to get a lot of resistance, and we didn’t,” Basulto said. “So I think that was one of the biggest highs we had.”
On Jan. 17, at one of the group’s last planning meetings before the event, Basulto, Anne Bercilla, and Audy Macdonald talked posters, funding, and logistics in the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Santa Maria office. There was only one more full day to get everything nailed down, and things appeared to be falling in place.
The organizers joked around as they discussed who would pick up a much-needed banner and where to place a cash box during the event.
They seemed laid-back, comfortable working together, and focused, even as other core leaders and helpers shifted in and out of the room.
In terms of planning, Macdonald said the process went pretty well. The group received a helpful organizational tool kit when they registered with the national Women’s March, numerous sponsors and donors helped fund the necessary permits and decor, and Macdonald said the group won a grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara County.
While marches across the nation have been criticized for being exclusionary to trans women and women of color, Macdonald said Santa Maria’s planning committee made a point to be inclusive to all, and to bring as much diversity as possible to the table. That, she said with a laugh, even included a few token men.
But for Macdonald, who also helped found the House of Pride and Equality (HOPE), an advocacy organization focused on supporting the local LGBTQ community, the fun of getting involved in activism stems from her love of being a part of “something that’s bigger” than herself.
“With HOPE, we started off like, ‘Oh it’ll be fun,’” Macdonald said, adding that it wasn’t until the organization was up and running that she realized how much of an impact it had on the community. “It meant so much more to people than we thought … . And then I was kind of like, ‘Wow, this is really important.’”
She feels the same way about the Women’s March, and although it’s two years after the worldwide marches originally started, Macdonald said this year felt like the right time for Santa Maria to get into the mix.

With the existence of HOPE, the last two LGBTQ Pride festivals being so successful, and the election of Gloria Soto to City Council, Macdonald said there is a lot of energy flowing through Santa Maria’s left-leaning community, or as she called it, a “progressive buzz.”
“We’re ready,” she said. “Santa Maria has been ready. And I think people have been fed up that it hasn’t already happened. So I mean, if you want to make change you have to do it.”

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at [email protected].

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