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Women's March Makes Its Way To Conservative Kern County

Christina Lopez

Millions around the country and world made their voices heard this weekend during the second annual Women’s March. Homemade signs for women’s rights, equality for all, and support for immigrants were raised in Bakersfield -- an unlikely scene in the heart of conversative Kern County, which voted majority Republican during the 2016 election. FM89’s Christina Lopez attended the first annual Women’s March in Kern County this past Saturday, exactly one year since President Trump was sworn into office, and shares this report.

“Here, now, I say, ‘My pussy is not yours to grab. Your alternative facts are not my reality,’” one activist said as she addressed the crowd during the first annual Women’s March in Kern County.

With over a thousand from across the county in attendance -- a diverse army of women, men, and children -- young and old -- gathered at Mill Creek Park in downtown Bakersfield for the inaugural Women’s March in Kern County.

“Keep movin’ on. Keep movin’ on. Ya gotta put one foot in front of the other and lead with love. Puuuuuut one foot in front of the other and lead with love...one more time,”

With arms linked, chants of "¡Sí, se puede!" -- “Yes, we can!” -- could be heard from members with the United Farm Workers Foundation marching in solidarity for immigrants’ rights and dreamers.

"¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!"

One of those voices belonging to Leydy Rangel with the U.F.W.

“We think it’s really important to be here today because as women in the fields suffer harassment and they continue to do so we want to amplify the voices of the workers in the fields that feed us and we hope that they leave the march ready to put on a fight with the rest of these women and other activists alike,” said Rangel.

As the marchers continued, some chanted the words, “Say it loud, say it clear, everyone is  welcomed here! Say it loud, say it clear, everyone is welcomed here!”

In the span of less than 10 weeks, local organizers including Kimberly Kirchmer with the women’s march movement -- raised thousands of dollars and collaborated with local law enforcement to make the march a reality.

“This is the voices of the women; women came from love and we’re here uniting the community. We want these people to realize that our vote counts as women,” said Kirchmer as she marched behind the Women’s March Kern County banner.

Outside of women’s rights, other individuals marched to show their disapproval for Majority Leader GOP Kevin McCarthy -- whose hometown is Bakersfield.

“Our representative Kevin McCarthy has his head so far up President Trump’s butt it’s a miracle that he hasn’t suffocated and he does nothing for the people here in Kern County,” said Michael Myers. “He doesn’t do anything for us. We gotta get him out of there and replace him with someone who is going to think about our community.”

Myers, a resident of Kern County, says the march won’t disrupt Trump’s base.

“Nothing will disrupt Trump’s base. It doesn’t matter what he does. There’s nothing you can do,” said Myers.

“So then why march?”, asked FM89’s Christina Lopez.

“Because if you just sit back on your butt and do nothing, nothing will ever change. This sign is not meant to reach President Trump or Kevin McCarthy. It’s meant for the people to read it and get the message,” said Myers. “It’s for the people here and the people that are bystanders watching this march go by, it’s totally for them so that they’ll have the message to get up on Election Day and go vote.”

“I’m proud of my town because I didn’t expect this turnout,” said Serenity Hansford, a Bakersfield native. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I always felt like being a Democrat and a liberal was kind of like a taboo thing, like you had to be quiet about it but now that things have gotten really serious and people are showing up, I’ve realized how not alone I am in my town.”

Others who aren’t alone were the marchers in support of the “Me Too” movement -- women and men like Andres Martinez who stood for those who had been sexually harassed and assaulted.

“I stand with my fiancé who experienced a sexual assault and I stand for her and all women that has happened to because it’s not ok,” said Martinez. “I’m encouraged by other men who stand up for the women that they love and also for the goodness of this whole world because we stand up for things that are wrong. We have to speak out. It starts now.”

Despite its location this year, the Women’s March movement is no stranger to Kern County residents. Marchers like 73-year-old Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg who were among a group of passengers aboard chartered buses to the national inaugural march in Los Angeles last year.

“I got to stay home this year because as you can see we have so many people, especially young people who are committed and interested in our future,” said Gomez-Heitzeberg.

“Why does it get you so emotional?,” asked Lopez.

“Well, at 73, I’ve seen this before and I think the important thing for all of us to remember is that we can’t forget and if we do forget we are destined to relive the past. We don’t want to go back to the 50’s,” said Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg.

Gomez-Heitzeberg and thousands of other marchers carried a sense of hope as they wrapped around the outskirts of downtown Bakersfield.

“I’ve seen kids who are 10 and babies, young mothers, grandparents all of them together -- that’s what’s going to make the change for the future. You can’t ignore what’s happening today. I think this is encouraging. It makes my heart happy,” said Gomez-Heitzeberg.

As the march ended, the momentum of the day continued.

“Hello, good afternoon, my name is Jocelyn Cuevas and I’m gonna tell you guys a story,” said Cuevas, who addressed marchers during the close of the event.

A story and a dream from one dreamer to a crowd of thousands.

“I was brought into this country when I was three months old. This is my home. This is our home,” shouted Cuevas.

Christina Lopez is a freelance reporter based in Bakersfield. She contributes reports to Valley Public Radio.