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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

SB Women's (Non) March Takes a Left Turn

About 2,000 people gathered in De La Guerra Plaza Saturday to celebrate the second annual Women’s March, an event whose tone and themes differed considerably from last year’s buoyant affair, with its singular focus on Trump.

On a day when big marches took place across the nation, Santa Barbara’s actually didn’t leave the plaza, at the request of SBPD brass who demurred at patrolling the route while law enforcement and first responders are still immersed in dealing with the Montecito disaster.

Instead, a parade of several dozen speakers representing local liberal and lefty organizations - from a spokesperson for local anarchists (who attacked the police as a threat to public safety) to a self-described “bi, trans, disabled Latin American" (who declared that “not all pussies are pink” and criticized as hetero-normative several posters in the crowd displaying vulvas) and an ACLU organizer (who attacked Sheriff Bill Brown as a paramilitary menace) spoke for about four hours to an ever-dwindling audience.

While Trump and the “radical Republican agenda” came in for plenty of bashing, it seemed at times less indignant than criticism aimed at what was described in one speech as the “cis gender, white and economically privileged” cohort - not to mention the cops, who were assailed for everything from allegedly being spouse beaters to purportedly modeling Trump’s proposal to build a Wall on the border with their tactics to chill out Halloween in Isla Vista.

“You have to be anti-state,” a member of the anarchist Bonfire Collective harangued the crowd, adding caustic denunciations of police officers: “We are safer when they are not present.”

At one point, an aging Boomer felt certain he had been transported back to an SDS meeting in 1968, and the Progressive Labor Party and Weatherman were slugging it out over who had the purest ideological line on the left. But we digress.

There were, as well, many images recalling the 2017 marches that censured Trump’s Inauguration: hundreds of women, and not a few men, sported iconic pink pussy hats, Planned Parenthood had a very strong presence and received the loudest applause, while a Democratic registration table reported signing up more than 900 new voters. It also was noteworthy that big cheers went up from the crowd each time a fire engine rumbled by.

Political hack shortage. Another big difference, however, was the near-total absence from the speaker’s list of elected officials, who dominated the podium a year ago. This was a conscious decision on the part of volunteer organizers, who assembled a roster of community activists to align with eight “Unity Principles” of national marches.

“The politicians always get to speak,” said Tanya Hyde, a leader of the planning group. “We want grassroots people to have a chance to be heard.”

Only two electeds, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Goleta School Board member – and 2nd district supervisorial candidate – Susan Epstein were invited to address the crowd.

“Feel the women power, feel the pussy power,” Mayor Cathy said, making the most of her brief allotted time.

The Epstein factor. Behind the scenes, there was considerable grumbling about Epstein being invited as the only elected official to speak, besides the mayor.

Hyde, the rally organizer, said Epstein was chosen specifically because she will be on the ballot, to reflect one of the march’s several overall messages – “Hear our vote.”

“If we have any politician speak, it should be somebody who is running in 2018,” she said.

That, however, is precisely what peeved backers of SB council member Gregg Hart, who is expected to jump into the 2nd District race against Epstein.

“It’s disappointing they would highlight one candidate when so many good candidates are running for so many offices,” said one Hart partisan.

Hart himself was seemingly unperturbed by Epstein’s coup, as he smiled and shook hands near the back of the crowd. Asked when and if he plans to announce his candidacy, Smilin’ Gregg joined his right thumb and index finger and moved them across his mouth in a zip-his-lips motion.

Mayor Cathy may have let the cat out of the bag a few minutes earlier, however, when she told Newsmakers she planned to endorse political warhorse Hart “because he’s so knowledgeable.”

“Gregg’s gonna run hard,” she added.

Epstein, for her part, steered far away from overtly political matters in her brief speech to the rally. She began by asking for a moment of silence for the Montecito victims, then decried the “failure of civil discourse” in politics and expressed hope for the future, because so many women have decided to run for office since Trump’s election.

“Together we’ll stand strong,” she said. “Together we will rise.”

Unlike Murillo, who bailed fairly early in the proceedings, Epstein hung around to listen to speeches almost until the bitter end, and thus was in a position to hear the anti-police rhetoric.

Asked if she agreed with the sentiments, Susan diplomatically said it was useful to hear “a diversity of voices” while praising the work of the cops, not only in the Montecito catastrophe, but also in “their long history in the community” of peacefully monitoring protests and marches.

As for some of the more bellicose views expressed by speakers – “We have to be willing to work outside the law,” said one – Epstein smiled and said, “I’m not an anarchist.”

Chelsea’s performance. Westside activist Chelsea Lancaster, who works at City College and is a leader of the community organization El Centro, uncorked a passionate and high-energy stem-winder on behalf of immigrant rights.

The cognoscenti are keeping a close eye on Lancaster. Last week, she submitted her name for consideration for appointment to the city council, to fill out the remaining two years of Cathy’s term representing the 3rd District. The council will hear from the applicants on Monday (they’ll also have a hearing on the possibility of calling a special election for the post) and our sources say that Chelsea is the favored contender of some key Democratic insiders.

During her speech near the end of the rally, Lancaster invoked the words of Assata Shakur, a black nationalist considered an iconic hero in some quarters of the left, who broke out of prison and fled to Cuba in 1979, after being convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of a cop in New Jersey. Also known as Joanne Chesimard, she remains on the “Most Wanted Terrorist” list of the FBI, which has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to her arrest.

Lancaster exhorted the few people left of the crowd by the time she spoke to chant with her the words of Shakur, godmother of the late rapper Tupac Shakur:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

There were no injuries.

Images: A sign in the crowd; Cathy Murillo; Susan Epstein (all Newsmakers photos); Chelsea Lancaster in 2015 (Noozhawk).

Just because: Here's a look at World Dance performers warming up the crowd:

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