IMPRESSIONS--The Saturday, Jan. 21 Women’s March in Downtown Los Angeles against the incoming Trump Administration was one of hundreds of similar marches across the United States and in other countries. (Photo above: Marchers on Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, one of many packed streets.)
Occidental College political scientist Peter Dreir has calculated that the total for all demonstrations in the United States exceed 4,000,000 people. He also wrote that the final tally could be higher once more reliable counts are collected. For instance, in Los Angeles, ABC news, as well as the march organizers, estimated there were 750,000 people in total, while the New York Times reported 100,000, even lower than the LAPD’s estimate. Having been at both, I think this march was comparable in size to the immigrant rights march of 2006, which had 500,000 people.
With such a mammoth event, many people never arrived on time, or at all, because METRO’s busses and subways were overwhelmed, with waits of two hours in North Hollywood to take the Red Line. Others followed from home through traditional media and social media.
As an eyewitness, these are my other impressions, beyond the unexpected size of the event:
- Nearly all signs were made at home, with hardly any handed out at the event itself by organizers or other supportive groups.
- Domestic issues prevailed. The messages of these homemade signs were focused on domestic issues such as opposition to all types sexism, bigotry, racism, and nativism. They also included opposition to mass deportations, erosion of health care, and violations of civil liberties, as well as the need to combat fascist trends through more enormous street actions.
- Foreign policy issues ignored. Media and Democratic Party finger pointing at Russia and Vladimir Putin did not gain any traction with the demonstrators. During the entire march, among the tens of thousands of signs that swept by me, I only saw two that mentioned Russia or Putin. Clearly this highly charged dispute within the foreign policy establishment over US-Russian relations did not motivate 750,000 people to walk the streets of downtown LA for this anti-Trump Women’s March.
- Diversity: Those attending were of all ages. They ranged from babies to the elderly. On the east coast, I even heard a personal story of a 93-year-old woman who attended her first demonstration and loved it. Despite being called a Women’s March, there were also lots of men, but Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans were under-represented. If they were there in proportion to those who voted by Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein in the November election, there would have easily been over 1,000,000 demonstrators.
- Missing: During four hours at this march, we did not see anyone from the LAPD, LADOT traffic control officers, or the media. On the various approach routes, there were many LAFD trucks, but otherwise it was just waves of marchers, in some cases mixing with snarled traffic. According to news reports, a few public officials spoke at Pershing Square and City Hall, including Mayor Eric Garcetti. Apparently Hizzoner was unaware of the irony of a mayor whose administration is in total collusion with Big Real Estate through pay-to-play protesting a President whose cabinet represents total collusion between Big Business and the federal government.
- Insufficient planning: The organizers, working with City departments, expected 80,000 to 100,000 people, but downtown LA’s streets were overwhelmed with much greater numbers. The demonstrators had to compete with traffic on streets like Grand until sheer numbers imposed total gridlock. At Red and Purple line subway stations, there were hardly any METRO employees to help those new to transit navigate the ticketing systems and entrances. At bus stops METRO had not posted alternative routes and times because of the march. To METRO’s credit, though, bus drivers were extremely helpful in getting demonstrators into and out of the downtown
- What next? The tiny fraction of demonstrators who heard speeches or got handouts at Pershing Square or City Hall might have been give direction for next steps, but the vast majority of those who made it to downtown LA left in quandary over what comes next, despite their feel-good day. There are so many ways, though, for them to be engaged, including those I outlined in a previous City Watch article on climate issues, that anyone who so desires can find a vast array of local projects to help with, such as immigrant rights, environmental-justice, or the expected military conflicts either in the works or to be blundered into by the new administration.
(Dick Platkin is former LA City planner who recently taught courses on sustainable city planning at USC and CSUN. He is also a former union officer, who worked hard to create labor-neighbor alliances in Los Angeles. Please send corrections or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)