Episcopalians were among the pink-wearing, sign-carrying, chanting, joyous, positive and peaceful women, men, children, and families who rallied in Southland cities in solidarity with the historic Jan. 21 Women’s March in Washington D.C.

From Orange to Ventura to Los Angeles counties, Episcopalians joined millions around the world in the “Sister Marches.” Crowd sizes exploded expectations as demonstrators voiced their concerns with the direction of the country as a new administration took office.

An estimated 750,000 flooded the streets of downtown Los Angeles. More than 300 women, men, children, and families from All Saints, Pasadena, participated in the march, according to the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, senior associate for communications. She said that several All Saints members were organizers for a pre-march “Rally at the Rotunda” at Pasadena’s at City Hall, where more than 1700 people gathered to hear speakers including Congresswoman Judy Chu.”

“I’m a native of Los Angeles and no stranger to protest marches that fill the streets of downtown L.A. — and I have never seen anything like the size, energy and passion of what we saw on Saturday,” Russell told The Episcopal News.

The sea of signs carried through the streets supported a broad spectrum of issues, including women’s rights, civil rights, religious freedom, reproductive justice and LGBT equality and protested a long list of systemic evils: racism, sexism, nativism, Islamophobia and homophobia.

In Orange County, Joyce Swaving joined Santa Ana’s estimated 20,000 marchers as a volunteer route guide.
“We had prepared for about 5,000, but it was estimated that 20,000 people were there,” Swaving said. “The beauty was in the makeup of the crowd — lots of young people, lots of families, lots of different combinations of what comprises family.”

As a route guide, she had prepared to intervene if there were protestors or other problems, but there were none, she said. “I helped guide people through the intersections to make sure everyone was safe,” said Swaving, who is bishop’s warden at St. George’s Church in Laguna Hills.

The crowd was enthusiastic, joyful and collegial, she said. “I wanted the march to be about inclusion, that people love who they love, and have access to affordable health care, and that just by our presence, we can make a difference.”

After marching with about 5,000 others in Riverside on January 21, Shannon Conrad said the call to continued action was so strong that another gathering had already been planned for Jan. 26 at All Saints Episcopal Church, Riverside, where her husband John is rector.

“People came out of it committed to actually doing some work. It wasn’t just a one-time march,” she said. Signs and speakers were focused on women’s health issues, immigration reform, access to health care, the environment and social justice concerns, she said.

“The downtown was packed and there were a lot of men and little girls; it was so upbeat and positive. After that really dismal inauguration day it was a joyful march and very peaceful, everybody was polite, getting out of the way for wheelchairs and people with strollers.”

She felt motivated to attend the march because of “the negative discourse going on right now and because I feel disheartened by what looks like some of the changes coming, about which I don’t agree. I knew I had to get out and act on what I believe.”

In downtown Ventura, Jennifer Baker described the Sister March as “happy and defiant.”

Baker, 42, a parishioner at Epiphany in Agoura Hills, and her daughters, ages 10 and 12, joined more than 2,500 people who gathered in downtown Ventura.

“We are worried about the administration and nervous about what may happen, and this was an opportunity to express that,” said Baker, assistant director in the Pepperdine University Disabilities Services Office.

She said the mood of the crowd was peaceful and joyous and “I liked that it was a women’s march. But it was also very clear that it was intersectional with disability and ethnicity, different types of indigenous rights — groups all coming together to make sure that these rights are held and continued, and it was good to come together.”

While she wasn’t surprised by the tremendous outpouring of support for the march, she hopes “it keeps going. That it’s not just Saturday, that the momentum that has been built up continues.

“I was surprised by the turnout, I was happy about it.”

In Pasadena, All Saints’ Russell said she hopes others will also act.

“My hope is that the marches are but the beginning of a movement — a movement of sacred resistance that will equip and empower us to be agents of God’s love, justice and compassion as we follow not only Jesus but all those who have gone before us, blazing the trail of transformative love in action. Because in the final analysis, no matter how fervent our prayers or powerful our rhetoric or clever our protest signs … if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

The Pasadena church is hosting a series of rector’s forums titled “Intersectional Resistance,” focused on “how we work together to dismantle the systemic evils we marched against on Saturday,” Russell said.
The first forum, held Jan. 22, featured Planned Parenthood leader Sheri Bonner, “and as a ‘prayerfully pro-choice’ church since 1989 we renewed our commitment to defend women’s reproductive freedom.”