Women's March 2018: Hollywood A-listers Natalie Portman, Viola Davis and Scarlett Johansson address crowds at LA rally

Hundreds of thousands of people flood streets of Los Angeles in one of the biggest marches across the US

Elizabeth Segal
Los Angeles
Sunday 21 January 2018 03:19
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Actors Eva Longoria, Constance Wu and Natalie Portman speak during the Women's March on 20 January 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Actors Eva Longoria, Constance Wu and Natalie Portman speak during the Women's March on 20 January 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

In what was said to be the largest of the Women’s Marches held across the US, hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles residents poured onto their city’s downtown streets, joined by a number of Hollywood stars as they once again looked to "resist" President Donald Trump.

“Ugh - Where Do I Even Begin?” read a sign that spoke volumes about the large swath of issues addressed by a demonstrative crowd in their chants and placards. Anger about the government shutdown was palpable, as was frustration with myriad Trump Administration policies, but the marchers also picked up on topics that have gained traction since the first marches on the president's inauguration day one year ago - such as the fight against sexual harassment and assault that has swept through the entertainment business and beyond.

Victoria, 60, who declined to give her last name, reference the #MeToo movement, which sprang up in the wake of a number of sexual misconduct allegations against figures in Hollywood. “I went last year, I was so glad I went," she said. "This year, especially for me, it’s the hashtag #MeToo.” When asked if she’d ever experienced a sexual assault, she said that she was raped at age 20. “So this #MeToo, I’m so passionate about it. So happy it’s happening!”

The march’s main theme, #PowerToThePolls, encouraged participants to think ahead to the country’s mid-term elections in November. Voter registration booths and canvassers dotted the march route, while street vendors hawked pink pussy hats - a symbol of last year's marches - and “Oprah 2020!” buttons, while handmade signs read things like “Veto The Cheeto!” a reference to a fast-food cheese snack which is said to resemble Donald Trump’s hair colour.

Thousands of demonstrators listen to speakers at the Women's March in Los Angeles, California, on 20 January 2018.

A number of Hollywood's A-list joined speakers at a rally at City Hall. Amongst them, actress Natalie Portman spoke boldly about the horror, as a 12-year-old performer on the set of her first film, of having to learn quickly about the politics of sexuality - or "sexual terrorism" as she called it - after being sent rape-fantasy letters by a fan, and how it came to oppress her over the years.

A passionate Viola Davis stirred the crowd by saying, “I was also a #MeToo!” then reading from the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, which is inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free!” Whoops and hollers were heard all down the parade route. Davis encouraged them to “Keep that rolling once you go home!”

Scarlett Johansson also spoke about the fact that she was “empowered... by the brightness of this movement, the strength and the unity that this movement has provided. It gives me hope that we are moving toward a place where our sense of equality can truly come from within ourselves.”

Latinos and other immigrant groups also came out in full force to march, having found themselves at the heart of the disagreements that led to the government shutdown. Part of the reason for the closure was Mr Trump and Republicans wanting a tougher line on illegal immigration, while Democrats were pushing for provisions for so called "Dreamers" who have been left in limbo after the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme. That programme, started by former President Barack Obama offered protection form deportation, and the right to education plus work permits to hundreds of thousands of people brought to the US illegally by their parents when they were children.

Barbara Perez-Schmidt and Janet Perez-Molina, waving signs that read, “Mujeres por el Dream Act,” [Women for the Dream Act] told the story of a Latino family friend, a male in his 20s who had been getting his Masters degree in Nursing until he was recently and suddenly deported to Mexico, thereby breaking up his family. “There’s one family member there. And he’s not working yet cause he’s trying to adapt,” one said, adding that the friend had no money to his name down in Mexico.

Both women chimed in that they believed that the shutdown was the right thing for the Democrats to have forced. “Even though DACA wasn’t (yet) due, this is a necessary action that needed to happen, so that (the Republicans) can understand that it’s a priority, that our families are suffering. This deportation and separation—we’re all human beings! And they need to be human and kind,” said Perez-Schmidt firmly.

Jess, a Latina social worker in her 20s, spoke on the march route about her work in an outpatient mental health clinic that caters to older Latinos. She said that right now, “There’s a lot of fear. I don’t see a lot of progress in the last year. Someone I was working with came into a care session and cried for almost the entire session in frustration.”

"So many of my older adults are having to take medication for sleep more and more in the last six months,” she added, suggesting that the anxiety many of her clientele were reporting was apparently triggered by watching the news.

Jess added: “I don’t think any of my clients should have to accept the situation they’re in. So I stand and march for those who are not able to.”

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