About 100 people turned out for a women’s march and rally Saturday in Courthouse Square in downtown Sonora, one of dozens of such events around the United States and other countries.
Some carried signs with slogans such as “sorry were my civil rights getting in the way of your misogyny” or “equal rights 4 others does not mean less rights 4 you — it’s not a pie.”
All ages were represented, from toddler to retirement, and quite a few men showed up.
Elizabeth Barton fired up the crowd, when as the last speaker she called her mother to stand beside her.
Barton, chief executive officer of Echo Adventure Cooperative in Groveland, said her mother set her on the path of advocating for equal rights when as a 5 year old in Oklahoma she told her mother she wanted to go to medical school but knew girls couldn’t be doctors.
She said her mother put her in the car and drove 1.5 hours to Tulsa for her to meet female doctors. She acknowledged it would be a better story if she had actually gone to medical school, but the lesson on empowerment endures some 35 years later.
“Equality doesn’t have to be a partisan issue,” Barton said, and listed ways in which women could be supported in the community: go to female doctors, buy from woman-owned stores and businesses, buy art and read books created by women, support female candidates.
“Run for office if you’re feeling saucy,” she said.
Barton implored women to lift each other up and to lift themselves up as well, celebrate stretch marks and crows feet and gray hair.
“Each of you is beautiful; and I’m truly honored to call you my sisters,” she said.
As she walked off, several audience members shouted, “good job, Mom.”
Patti Cherry, the president of the League of Women voters, related the history of how women secured the right to vote, including the meeting between league founder Carrie Chapman Catt and President Woodrow Wilson that ultimately led to the 19th amendment being ratified in 1920.
She said while women have made great strides — 56 percent of the workforce — their efforts on ballots across the country have not kept pace — 20 percent of those holding elected office are women.
“Under-representation is unjust,” she said, listing the various offices women should hold and then said, “We belong in the White House.”
She said she was tired of hearing people ask if women can be elected president, noting the nation has elected a peanut farmer, movie actor, a Catholic.
“Advocacy is not a speed race,” she said. “It’s a relay race. It’s our turn to run the race now. There’s no finish line. Democracy is like that wild child requiring adult supervision. Citizen oversight is our job.”
Cherry also implored the crowd to set aside conflict.
“Our culture of conflict has had a long run,” she said. “It’s time to clean this damn mess up. Let’s get along.”
Elizabeth Marum, a Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist and technical advisor in HIV prevention, spoke about her 25 years of work in Africa and the effort to get lifesaving medication to those suffering from the disease.
One million people in the U.S. have HIV; 21 million do in east and south Africa, she said.
She told a story about a woman she knew who stood up to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking that the U.S. provide the medications needed to fight HIV in Africa. The Bush administration responded, saving that one woman, her son and many, many thousands more.
“One woman who made a difference,” Marum said.
Pamela Orbaugh and Rachel Reese spoke about their work at the Center for a Non Violent Community, where last year 39 adults and 26 children stayed in the center’s emergency shelter, 254 attended support groups, 590 made crisis calls and 261 were helped with restraining orders.
“This is our community,” Orbaugh said, noting that the center was born from the women’s movement.
“Yes it was,” a woman shouted from the crowd.
More than 40 years ago, brave women took action, Orbaugh said.
“You matter,” she said. “We have a right to be seen and heard.”
Reese said, “All women deserve a chance. Everyone has dreams.”
She recounted a story about her grandfather who left her a voicemail that she discovered after he had died. He said, “It’s going to be a great day. You can make it happen.” It meant so much she had the words tattooed on her shoulder.
And Saturday, she told the crowd, “You matter. You can make it happen.”