What happened in downtown Bakersfield on Jan. 20 was huge, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
The first official Women’s March Kern County — arguably one of the largest marches in the city’s history — was an overwhelming success. Thousands came together at Central Park at Mill Creek … and it was peaceful, it was unifying and an overall inspirational experience for those who took part.
It is no exaggeration to say it was a turning point and a liberating experience for those of us who have not always felt comfortable expressing our views in this conservative county. We know the political reality of where we live: Kern County is a very red dot in a big blue state. This is not a jab in any way, this is just fact.
Last year, we did not have a local women’s march. Instead, people loaded into buses and vans to attend the Women’s March in Los Angeles. I attended a Bay Area Women’s March.
We didn’t have a women’s march here largely because we didn’t think our community would support it.
But this year was different.
A group of strong-willed, ethnically diverse women — and one amazing young man — worked together to organize Women’s March Kern County. Our ages ranged from 20s to, well, a few grandmas. We were led by Kimberly Kirchmer and Jessica Nix, two determined women with a vision.
The planning began in late November, giving us just a two-month window to figure it out. There were weekday planning meetings that easily ran past 9 p.m., exhausting for many of us who had just put in full days as teachers, lawyers and college students.
And so many details: City road closures because we weren’t content to have a march restricted to sidewalks. Securing sound equipment, music and a stage. Attracting vendors to sell their merchandise and promote their causes. Arranging transportation for residents from outlying communities.
We put together an awesome array of female speakers to share their personal stories of adversity and triumph in a world where women face so many more challenges, just because of their gender.
We wanted this event to be inclusive: Straight, gay, trans, Democrat, Republican (yes, there were some in attendance) or Independent. Men were highly encouraged to join us and support the women in their lives.
With limited funds, we relied on social media, in addition to a mighty army of volunteers dropping off promotional materials in businesses — from nail salons to churches — in cities throughout the county. We even managed some sponsors along the way.
This little Women’s March party we had planned was going to be a great gathering of like-minded people. And like all party throwers, we just wanted the people to show up to our little shindig.
We hoped for 1,000 attendees, but it turned out to be so much more. I think we should have known we were on to something when pre-orders for T-shirts and hoodies sold out.
Today, estimates are more than 5,000 took part. Drone footage showed a march that seemed to go on for blocks and blocks and blocks. We were awestruck, some of us very emotional. Generations of families, with so many children in tow, turned out in force.
In so many ways it was historic for our city, community and county. My Bay Area and SoCal friends might not fully understand, but this was huge for many of us in Kern County.
In the week since, after digesting news reports and seeing footage and photos, many of us on the organizing committee still ask ourselves: “Did we really just do this?”
We threw a party and they came. And it was peaceful. It was unifying. It was the Women’s March we all had hoped for and so much more. Thank you to all who took part in making this a success.
The march is over, but our work is not done. Our theme for the march was “Hear Our Vote.” We must not forget the importance of our voice at the polls, for voting is a true equalizer in this democracy and mid-term elections are quickly approaching.
Together, we can move mountains.
Tracy Correa Lopez is a member of the Women’s March Kern County organizing committee. She works in corporate communications. The opinions expressed are her own.