Thousands of people took to the streets in downtown Bakersfield on Saturday to advocate for women’s rights and equal treatment.
The first Kern County Women’s March started and ended at Mill Creek Park off of 21st Street.
The march itself winded its way westward on 21st Street before turning south onto Q Street, turning east onto 17th Street, then going north along Mill Creek before returning to the park.
The march is one of many being held across the nation this weekend, the anniversary of last year’s first national Women’s March.
“It was empowering,” participant Julie Malcomson said of the march. “It was nice to be around like-minded individuals demonstrating what democracy looks like. It is so nice to see people coming together for something like this. We are a notoriously red county and I think it’s great that we have the ability to have a voice in this city.”
Chelsea Zent said she came to Saturday’s event to support women’s health issues and LGBTQ rights, primarily. Zent said she’s also experienced sexual assault and harassment multiple times since she was a kid.
Zent wasn’t the only one. When hundreds of participants were asked whether they had ever been sexually assaulted, about three-quarters of the large crowd raised their hands.
Zent said she hopes the march will help educate people about the importance of women’s rights and that assaulting and/or harassing people is not acceptable.
“I want to make sure people are educated so that we can try to stop assault and harassment of all kinds from happening and create a safe space all over the world for everyone,” she said. “This march really shows that we care about educating people who may not understand what women’s rights are about. We need to stand together as females.”
However, women weren’t the only ones advocating for their rights. Many men came out to support their wives or significant others, mothers, sisters and other women they know.
“I think it’s important for men to support women and give them the same platform that we have, the same opportunities,” said Jose Pinto.
Before and after the march, there were speakers, entertainment, food and other activities on hand. One of the speakers was Bakersfield criminal defense attorney Monica Bermudez, who spoke about her own struggles in being taken seriously as a female attorney in a traditionally male profession.
“When I first started as an attorney, I would get comments from clients, people who were my colleagues ... such as why did the attorney bring his legal secretary today? When is the attorney going to arrive?” she said. “The reason I was given those comments is because I’m a woman and because I’m a minority.”
Bermudez said such comments inspired her to persevere in the profession and eventually open her own practice. At one point during her speech, Bermudez directly addressed those who she said doubted her ability to do the job because she’s a woman.
“I’m standing here today to tell you I’m a successful businesswoman and I’m going to continue to be a successful businesswoman, because my fire — my fuel — is your doubt,” she said.
Bermudez said what it comes down to is the importance of being treated like everyone else.
“Common decency is all we are asking for. What is so wrong to sit here and say we deserve to be seen as equals?” she said. “I am a professional, and I deserve to be treated like every woman, every person should be treated: with respect.”
Marcher Delfina Sotelo said that while women’s rights may be the focus of the event, it is really about all people’s rights.
“We’re fighting not just for women’s rights but everybody’s rights. This year is not just about women,” she said.
While Sotelo said she’s sometimes treated differently for being a woman, but also for being a Latina, especially in a conservative area such as Kern County.
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try, how many generations your family has been here, you’re still seen in a different way,” she said. “People just think that because you’re a male or have a different skin tone than I have, you have more rights than I do, and that’s not true at all.”
Sotelo said she’s hopeful that the Women’s March will make a difference by inspiring people to make their voices heard, both literally and with their votes.
“It’s a small step but it will continue to build,” she said. “Women are never going to stop fighting for their rights. It doesn’t matter how much people try to repress it, it’s going to continue. People are always going to be fighting.”