SANTA CLARITA, California – Women in this southern California suburb joined thousands at the Los Angeles Women’s March last weekend still elated over November’s midterm election victory by their new representative in Congress, political newcomer Katie Hill.
Two days later, some of the marchers had even more cause for celebration, when one of their senators, Kamala Harris, announced that she was seeking the Democratic nomination for president, becoming the fourth woman to launch a 2020 White House bid.
“What I believe the American people want in their next commander in chief is someone who has leadership skills who has experience and has integrity and will fight on their behalf,” Harris said in an interview with ABC News.
“On all of those points, I feel very confident about my ability to lead, I feel very confident in my ability to listen and to work on behalf on the American public.”
For Santa Clarita resident Randy Bayard, recent political inroads are a sign that women are united and ascending.
“The #MeToo movement catalyzed women. I think the Women’s March is a good thing to keep women together,” Bayard said.
If the first Women’s March two years ago was a kind of primal scream following Hillary Clinton’s wrenching presidential election loss to Donald Trump, this year’s Women’s March was something closer to a celebration, coming on the heels of massive election gains in the midterms and the historically large number of women already vying to challenge Trump.
First out of starting blocks was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who made her announcement that she was running for the White House on New Year’s Eve. Warren was followed days later by US Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced her presidential candidacy a few days after Gabbard, to be followed by Harris this past Monday. Yet another woman senator, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), is also said to be weighing a White House run.
It was against this backdrop that women in this suburb 30 miles north of Los Angeles took part in this year’s march, undaunted, they said, by controversies within the national Women’s March movement over allegations of racial divisions and anti-Semitism.
They turned out, they said, to celebrate a season of burgeoning political empowerment for women.
“The first march was a referendum on the Trump election. I think last year’s election is what’s motivating women this year,” said Michelle Kampbell, president of the Santa Clarita Democratic Alliance for Action, as she prepared to take part in her third Women’s March.
“Everybody marched to the polls and that’s why we have over a hundred women today in Congress,” Kampbell said.
“The number of women who were elected to Congress speaks to the movement that this march began,” said Juliana Sheldon, another Santa Clarita resident.
“I don’t think that much has been reported on the number of women who worked at the grassroots level, knocking on doors, voter registration, phone calls, writing postcards. It began with the march,” she said.
Sheldon said she was aware of the national controversy that prompted several sponsors to pull out and a number of women to sit out this year after members of Women’s March national leadership made statements interpreted by many as anti-Semitic. The controversy prompted a number of civic and political sponsors to withdraw and led many participants, including large numbers of Jewish women, to sit out this year’s march.
Sheldon however said she felt it was as important as ever to show up.
“I think it’s a shame that there’s this controversy among the leadership, but the march really isn’t about the leadership. The march is about all of us and the work that still has to be done,” she said.
“The march isn’t really just about women’s issues. It’s about climate change, education, healthcare, the corruption in Washington. So many things resonate with all of us,” she added.
Katie Hill, her newly elected, Democratic lawmaker, who represents California’s 25th congressional district, is the first woman to hold office in the district that had been red for decades. Hill defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Steven Knight in a stunning upset for the Republican machine that dominated this northernmost district in Los Angeles County.
Like many of the women ThinkProgress spoke to at the Los Angeles Women’s March, Hill said that the Women’s March, first and foremost, is about empowerment and progress.
“The progress that we’ve seen is about the number of women who have been elected to office,” the freshman lawmaker told MSNBC at the Los Angeles Women’s March.
“We have to continue to fight to get women elected at every single level of government and to get equal representation among women at every possible leadership position whether it’s in the private or public sector,” she said.
Hill often points out that it was the Women’s March two years ago that inspired her to launch her longshot congressional bid.
“I think that this is showing (that) when women mobilize, we’re able to make great things happen,” she said. “We have to make sure that the same energy that happened last year is continuing forward, is going to make the Senate do the right thing now and is going to get the right people elected in 2020.”
Longtime Democratic operative Donna Brazile shared a similar message of optimism tinged with urgency last week.
Brazile said the Women’s March will survive this year’s divisions, as women “heal” and put a renewed focus on the issue that matters most. “If I was there, my sign would simply say ‘Women’s Power’,” Brazile said at a forum in Washington last week.
“I think there’s so much power now that we are recognizing our power not just in the boardroom, but also our power in the political arena,” she said. “I would hope we would find ways to heal some of the divisions that have come up as a result of the conversations that are taking place among a few group of leaders.”
Brazile said the common goals women share far outweigh transitory rifts.
“We somehow or another marginalize a few women, and say they are creating dissension,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of women who are marching, they are marching because they are tired of being silent. They want their issues heard. And we should not lose the larger point.”
At the same Washington, D.C. forum, Lissa Muscatine, a former speechwriter for Hillary Clinton, was also rueful about the focus on divisions among ranks of women in the months preceding the Women’s March.
“Right now, of course, there are tensions in the women’s movement because there are a lot of different needs and requirements and obligations and conditions that being met. But that doesn’t deny the universal need for women to unite around a common set of need and aspirations,” Muscatine said.
That was pretty much the same view held by Rachel Countryman, another protester at the Los Angeles rally.
“Any time you have a movement to include all women, you’re going to have a lot of agreement and you’re going to have some disagreement,” Countryman said. “You have to work on the best way to agree.”
Bess reported from Santa Clarita; Griffith reported from Washington, D.C.