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Hundreds take to the streets in Sonoma County as part of the third annual Women’s March events

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There were many reasons for the Torres family to participate in the Women’s March in downtown Santa Rosa Saturday: they are raising female children they want to inspire, they come from a lineage of strong women and they are Latino.

As a child and later as a teen, Alejandra Torres said she doesn’t remember being encouraged to voice her opinions on women’s rights.

When Torres looks at her young niece, who marched alongside her family holding a hand-painted sign, she said she wants nothing more than for the next generation of women to feel like they never have to question their own sense of power.

“I have limited experiences in my past where I was encouraged to be this bold,” Torres said. “Now I want to see women of color fighting for opportunities.”

That’s why the Torres family joined hundreds of women, men, children and non-binary individuals who took to the Sonoma County streets in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma on Saturday for annual Women’s March events — two years since the first event in Washington and others around the world drew millions of people.

As the crowd in Santa Rosa chanted and cheered, some carried colorful signs with statements such as “Nobody is above the law,” “Together we rise” and “Hands off my womb.”

Before marching, women from all backgrounds stepped to the microphone on the stage on Old Courthouse Square downtown and shared stories of their own struggles and the renewed inspiration that has gripped the nation since a record number of females, people of color and those that identify as LGBTQ were elected to Congress in the midterm elections in November.

“I come from a long line of strong, powerful and resistant women,” shouted 16-year-old Jayden Lim, a youth tribal ambassador who identifies as Pomo Indian. “When I had the opportunity to visit the White House and meet Michelle Obama, she asked me ‘What are you going to do with all that fire?’ and I said that I intend to keep resisting injustice.”

Newly elected local council members Esther Lemus of Windsor, Victoria Fleming of Santa Rosa and Marta Cruz of Cloverdale spoke of how they related to the scores of attendees who were women of color, working mothers and those who came from underrepresented corners of the community.

“I will be the first to tell you that I am not a stranger to discrimination because as a brown-skinned, Mexican American female I have experienced plenty of that,” Lemus said. “But then came the Women’s March of 2017 and it was then that I realized I wasn’t alone and I recognized that I needed to fight, that we needed to fight.”

Simultaneously, many more people gathered and marched in events around the nation, and in dozens of cities across the globe, calling for a resurgence in the defense of women’s rights, the end of inequality and to stop all violence against women.

The origins of the Women’s March grew out of shock that quickly shifted to anger after Donald Trump was elected in 2016 the 45th U.S. president. Two years into his presidency, on the streets of Santa Rosa on Saturday, strong political messages opposing nearly every agenda item of Trump’s presidency were bold backdrops to the larger message of preserving women’s rights.

Since Trump was elected we “have had to endure a lot of change,” said Janina Turner, 25, of Santa Rosa, explaining why she was marching. “There are still a lot of problems we have to tackle locally, too, especially in regards to racial equality and environmental concerns.”

But not all aspects of the local and national marches this year were harmonious, and many were held with fewer participants than previous years.

Leading up to this year’s march, there were fractures that led to some events being rescheduled and even cancelled. For example, the march in Humboldt County was scrapped after claims the organizers were not racially inclusive. The Democratic National Convention for the first time since the march movement started separated itself from the main organizers of the national march after statements anti-Semitic in nature made by some of the original organizers went viral online.

Santa Rosa march organizers announced early on they were fully independent and that the local event was not affiliated in any way with the Women’s March in Washington.

“As a fully inclusive, diverse and representative event there’s no room for antisemitism, hate and/or bigotry of any group or person at the event,” local organizers said. “What the national leaders are doing does not represent all the tens of thousands of women and allies who come together in Sonoma County to speak up for women’s rights and human rights for all.”

Rabbi Stephanie Kramer of the Congregation Shomrei Torah brushed off the divisive issues at the national level and instead focused her speech on messages of love, support and rights for all.

“As a Rabbi being asked to speak today it shows that decisions made at the local level are truly focused on the right message,” Kramer said to deafening roars of support. “We need to stand together, not splinter, and continue to get closer.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.

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