By Lisa M. Krieger Mercury News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) March organizers say there's an intersection of inspirations this year: The #MeToo movement shared women's stories of sexual harassment and assault, while the broader #TimesUp message seeks to raise awareness of issues ranging from sexual misconduct to gender and racial inequality in leadership positions.
Energized by two new social movements -- #MeToo and #TimesUp -- tens of thousands of women will march in the Bay Area and cities throughout the U.S. later this month as part of a sweeping campaign to propel more women and their allies into elected office and other leadership positions.
Expect a sea of pink hats, as seen in last year's vast, angry and spontaneous rebuttal to President Donald Trump's inauguration. But the main march this year on Jan. 21 is being held in Las Vegas, not Washington, D.C., a deliberate shift of gravity toward Western states such as California, Nevada and Arizona that will figure prominently in the 2018 mid-term elections. Most of the Bay Area marches are on Jan. 20.
The goal of the upcoming marches is more pragmatic than last year, with organizers openly advocating strategies to elect Democrats.
The organizers say they not only plan to express righteous outrage against individuals accused of sexual assault and harassment -- from Trump himself to Hollywood's Harvey Weinstein -- but also hope to channel that anger into a more unified and sustainable political movement aimed at combating the abuse of power and promoting workplace equality.
"People are ready to take action," said San Jose activist Chandra Brooks, who is helping to organize San Jose's women's march. "Last year, people were just getting interested in getting involved in the community and figuring out what to do."
The slogan, "First we marched, now we run," alludes to the new focus on voter registration, voter mobilization and getting more women to throw their hats into the ring. Marches will be held in 18 California cities, including San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Walnut Creek.
"The point of this march is not just to show big numbers, but also to keep the momentum going among women who turn out -- that highly motivated base that will help kick off this next election cycle, which will be really important to voter turnout," said Melinda Jackson, professor and chairwoman of the political science department at San Jose State University.
The change in strategy is not without risk. While it was relatively easy to get women to mobilize after Trump's surprise election, it will be harder to forge a campaign for increasing women's political and economic leadership, in which the successes might be spread over decades.
If the turnout at the marches this year is modest, it may come off as a weakening of will.
March organizers say there's an intersection of inspirations this year: The #MeToo movement shared women's stories of sexual harassment and assault, while the broader #TimesUp message seeks to raise awareness of issues ranging from sexual misconduct to gender and racial inequality in leadership positions.
Many Republican women, however, lament that the organizers' efforts to achieve "true diversity" doesn't include them. They contend that last year's march was hostile to female Trump voters, Christian conservatives and anti-abortion activists.
"There's no trust," said Oakland's Sue Caro, the California Republican Party's vice chair for the Bay Area. "The Women's March is seen as a leftist, ideologically driven march. The early one was against the newly elected Republican president -- which left a bad taste in the mouths of women on my side of the aisle."
Caro said most Republican women agree with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, because they support equality and decry harassment. And, she added, surveys show that all women, regardless of party affiliation, agree about the importance of four key issues: health care, education, retirement security and safety.
"But those are not the issues that are being addressed when a bunch of women from the left get together," Caro said. "They use the march for other purposes."
March organizers say that one year into the Trump presidency, female frustration has grown over what is seen as an effort to dismantle laws and policies that promote the welfare of women, people of color, workers, immigrants and members of the LGBT community.
They point to the GOP's tax law signed by Trump last month. It ends personal and dependent exemptions, which march organizers say disproportionately hurts women who earn close to the minimum wage. And, they add, the growing federal deficits generated by the tax cuts could lead to cuts in entitlements such as Medicaid, which covers contraceptives and more than half of the nation's births.
Many Democratic women say they're emboldened by a year of successes, such as the removal of Weinstein from his own company and the defeat of Alabama Republican Roy Moore, an accused child molester, in a U.S Senate contest. Even the recent Golden Globes ceremony turned defiant, as actresses dressed in black and men wearing buttons reading "Time's Up" rallied around the need to diversify political representatives, hiring and pay.
Compared to last year's march, "this will be a much more rational and broader base of support for changing the culture, saying 'Everyone has equal value,'" said Barbara O'Connor, director emeritus of Sacramento State's Institute for the Study of Politics and Media. "This will be the first major event that tests that resolve."
The main march's move to Nevada underscores the role that Western states will play in the electoral equation in 2018, said San Jose State's Jackson, noting the competitive U.S. Senate races in Nevada and Arizona and the abundance of vulnerable Republican House seats in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington state.
The Senate races are particularly important. Dean Heller in Nevada is considered the most vulnerable Republican going into the midterm elections, and Republican Jeff Flake's Arizona seat is up for grabs because he's leaving the Senate, Jackson said.
The races could determine which party controls the nation's upper chamber for the next two years -- and the success or failure of Trump's legislative agenda.
Last year, in special elections in Virginia, Alabama and other states, high turnout among women voters helped deliver some surprise victories for Democrats, women and minority candidates.
"We believe that the momentum will continue in 2018 as women and their allies take to the streets to make their voices heard," said Alison Mata, co-chairwoman for the Women's March in Oakland.
A record number of women are running for office in 2018, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers and Emily's List, a political action committee that promotes the candidacies of pro-choice Democrats.
In the two-year cycle before the 2016 election, about 920 women contacted Emily's List about running for office or getting politically involved in other ways. Since then, the PAC says, the number has exploded to more than 26,000.
Even if the march fails to match last year's numbers and drama, there is still great value to the newfound women's movements, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a veteran political analyst at the University of Southern California. "It will help motivate women -- and keep them motivated," she said. "It will help maintain a focus on what women want. And it will send a message."
Sacramento State's O'Connor cautioned that movements "take a lot of time and effort and nurturing." But, she added, "I think this one has legs."
Staff writers Martha Ross and Julia Baum contributed to this report.