Three years ago, hundreds of thousands of people essentially shut down Downtown Los Angeles, gathering and rallying in parks and the connecting streets to protest the election of President Donald Trump. The first Los Angeles Women’s March, which was part of a collection of international marches held on the same day, drew approximately 750,000 people to Downtown Los Angeles, nearly overwhelming the Downtown infrastructure.
The march has become an annual political event, with organizers, activists and engaged Angelenos coming together each January. The Women’s March is back for its fourth year on Saturday, Jan. 18, set to begin, as it has in the past, at and around Pershing Square at 10 a.m. There will be a stage where speakers — the full line-up was not revealed as of press time — will begin the event. The crowd will then march through the Historic Core to Grand Park outside of Los Angeles City Hall.
Women March L.A. Executive Director Elaine Patel, spoke with Los Angeles Downtown News about what Angelenos can expect from this week’s event. This interview was edited for clarity.
Los Angeles Downtown News: This is the fourth year the march has taken place, and the second time it’s taken place during an election year. Is there a theme or focus with this year’s march?
Elaine Patel: We’re excited to bring it back this year. It’s a huge endeavor. The theme this year is women’s rising. We’ve seen the power of women taking it upon themselves to take action in their communities. With the midterms in 2018 we saw a record-breaking 103 women elected to Congress.
We hear from women all the time saying “I was a volunteer in the first march, I went to the second march, what else can I do?” We’re seeing a rise of women since the 2017 march. Women are engaging in their communities. They’re not necessarily the people you’d think are activists, but they’re saying enough is enough and getting involved.
Q: In the last few weeks we’ve seen major national and international developments, including the impeachment of President Trump and heightened tensions with Iran. There was just a large anti-war protest in Downtown. Has that shifted the focus of this year’s march?
A: The craziest thing is it always seems every year that there’s always a lot going on in the country. Every year it’s been very challenging. We have a diverse amount of speakers and performers that will be at the march so that might come up, but it’s not a focus of the march. We’ll be sending out media advisory in the next few days with the full list of speakers. The focus has always been women’s empowerment.
Q: This is the fourth edition of something that started as a response to Trump’s inauguration. Does his election still have the same impact?
A: We don’t just have one march a year; we’re constantly talking to people throughout the year about organizing. That’s where that voter action program came in. We’re seeing that someone who wasn’t an activist marched and has seen what’s going on, and saying “how can I take action?” We’re seeing a rise in training organizers and how to register people throughout the year. There’s also been an increase in people who go to the march writing their senators.
Q: The first march drew 750,000 people. How many do you expect to come Downtown this year?
A: We’re thinking 250,000 people, but who knows? Every year it’s been bigger than we expect. In that first year we expected tens of thousands of people and almost a million showed up. Last year’s march drew 400,000.
Q: The march is also a kind of gathering space for various political and activist groups in L.A. How many of those can we expect this year?
A: We do have our community partner area where there will be booths for organizations. We estimate that there will be 50 plus groups with booths there. And many more will march with us.
Q: Given that this is an election year, are you focusing on registering people to vote?
A: In L.A. there’s a high amount of people who are already registered to vote, so specifically in this city it’s important to focus on youth. We’re looking at students, who will be voting for the first time. If 250,000 come out to the march this year, we don’t know how many will be students, but if we can register 5,000 students, that will be a success.
Another focus of ours is making sure people who are registered are updating their info in case they’ve moved.
The 2020 Women’s March begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18 at Pershing Square, 532 S. Olive St. or womensmarchla.com.