Signs, chants, honks and cheers mark large, upbeat Women’s March Modesto

You know an event is a success when it runs out of paper at the sign-in table.

Carrying homemade signs, wearing self-knit hats and chanting inclusive slogans, several hundred people turned out for the Women’s March Modesto on Saturday. Billed as a unity gathering, the march down McHenry Avenue brought out close to 1,000 area residents to protest the new president and to rally behind progressive causes. The event was a sister march to the larger Women’s March on Washington along with more than 600 other simultaneous marches around the country and the world.

Modesto’s march was planned in less than a week by organizers who wanted to give Central Valley residents a chance to show solidarity instead of traveling to the Bay Area or Sacramento to protest. News spread largely through word of mouth and Facebook, but organizers weren’t sure how many would show up on a gray Saturday morning. In the end, hundreds upon hundreds arrived, many with handwritten signs touting feminist slogans and pink “pussyhats” – part of a grassroots sewing campaign to make knit caps that look like cat ears in protest to President Donald Trump’s past infamous remarks about grabbing women that were captured on an Access Hollywood video.

“I am so touched by the turnout locally. This is exactly what we dreamed of, giving a voice to the people of Modesto,” said co-organizer Patty Hughes, from the Democratic Women’s Club of Stanislaus County.

The march started at McHenry and Briggmore avenues, with people rallying on all four corners with signs and encouraging cars to honk. Women and men gathered, many families bringing their school-age children, to take part in the peaceful protest. Signs ranged from issue-oriented messages such as “Climate science is real” and “All human beings are legal” to inspiring ones such as “Make America kind again” and “I am stronger than fear” to humorous ones such as “Resist bigly” and “You can’t comb over sexism.” American flags mingled with LGBT rainbow flags.

California State University, Stanislaus, master’s student Veronica Butler brought her two daughters, ages 5 and 10, to the march.

“It is important for them to see, as young women, the unity of women and to show that our voice matters,” she said. “My daughters are a living testament that things will get better as long as we all love each other.”

At 11 a.m., the crowd amassed behind a banner that read “Women’s March Modesto” and began the 2-mile walk down McHenry Avenue and then to Graceada Park. At times, the group stretched across seven city blocks as it made its way toward downtown Modesto. Chants broke out throughout, accompanied by passing cars honking their support every couple of minutes – with even a few big-rigs blasting their horns in harmony.

The mood was upbeat, with a lot of laughter, some dancing and no incidents throughout the hike. At the park, the crowd assembled to hear speakers and performers, including Hughes and her fellow march organizers Shanyn Avila and Elizabeth Sousa, who created the new Valley group Progressive Voices together after the election. Other groups supporting the march included the Modesto Peace Life Center, NAACP, Stanislaus Tuolumne Central Labor Council, UDW/AFSCME3930, Haven Women’s Center of Stanislaus, Stanislaus County Commission for Women and North Valley Labor Federation.

“Look at the amount of people here that are representing a voice that maybe many didn’t know was so massive,” Avila said. “This is a lot of ideologies that don’t think the incoming administration stands for them.”

While the event is named the Women’s March, men were welcome and took part, including Modesto resident Jesse Roseman and his 7-year-old son Meyer Roseman. The latter carried a self-drawn sign that read, “Build bridges, not walls.”

“I felt like it was important to exercise our rights, because if we don’t exercise them, they could be taken away,” the elder Roseman said.

Organizers ran out of paper at the sign-in table at Graceada Park, turning over sheets to use both sides and looking for scraps for people to write on.

“We are just so proud of Modesto, proud of this community that they came out and represented like this.” Sousa said. “This is for all of us who are afraid right now and who are marginalized by the administration.”