A beautiful day, interesting women, enthusiastic marchers. Crisp temperatures and the blue and gold of the sky provided Mother Nature’s back drop to the 2020 Inland Empire Women’s March that swept through downtown Riverside on January 18.
This fourth IE Women’s March again exploded with great enthusiasm, great comaraderie, warmth and energy. The march has been better organized every year, this year adding porta potties at the rally point. There were the same signs, the same labor unions, the same chants, the same listing of women’s issues—reproductive rights, equal pay, combating mysogyny. Everyone would rev up the anger about the Trump Administration and make it a point to support the Black Lives movement, despite the small number of African American speakers and organizations.
But of course, there was more.
Just before the march began, a bright orange shirt gleamed against the rays of the sun. Lorene Sisquoq, curator of the Sherman Indian Museum, had paired the shirt with a traditionally ruffled skirt. She was surrounded by several young women similarly garbed in bright skirts decorated with colorful ribbons. They were helping to set up a sign for the Community Health Workers, a non-profit organization providing medical and dental care. Representing the group, Junito Hunter explained that Indian health workers offer total health care to federally recognized Indian tribes. In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, members of nine tribes receive that care. He was also here personally to support Indigenous women, some of whom came from the Sherman Indian High School to march and rally.
In one corner, two young women from the school were working on the sign. They were dressed in colorful but comfortable skirts that stood out because of the color and the detail worked into the dresses. Mikaela Benson, of the northern plains Ogalala tribe, wore a ribbon dress with colorful ribbons sewn into the skirt while Rayne Ramirez wore a dress sewn for her by an aunt.
“People think Indians disappeared,” Ramirez commented, “but we’ve been here all along.” Traditions, values, cultural practices have never disappeared over the decades but have been passed on through families. Those values, including respect and care for the land and environment, have been maintained over centuries. The dresses she and Benson were wearing, for example, represented tribal regalia. They are not to be considered costumes, she added, because they are used in ceremonial dances and thus have spiritual meaning. Her own dress represented the customs of the Quechan tribe.
“We also came to march in support of Indigenous women,” she said. After the march, they joined the rally on the stage, Benson donning a headdress proclaiming her title, “Miss Sherman.”
Next door, Angie Balderas represented the Sierra Club in the Inland Empire. The Sierra Club is a national organization with local chapters that promote sustainable outdoor recreation (hiking and camping.) It also lobbies for environmental causes and the protection of the remaining wild and natural areas. So what was the Sierra Club doing at the Women’s March?
“Mother Earth is the most important woman,” Bladeras asserted, “she must be cared for as a treasure.” Air quality, for example, affects everyone and is a challenge in San Bernardino County, in part because of the heavy commuting in the area.
Balderas herself seemed to glow with good health, a look common among Sierra Club hikers.
The March proceeded as expected and was soon completed, the crowd returning to the Civic Plaza where they were greeted by the dulcet tones of the Riverside Resistance Revival Choir, who invited marchers to come up and join them in song.
The rally concluded with speeches by local dignitaries, including political candidates for various offices in the inland area. Master of ceremonies was Jenn Carson who serves as Secretary of Women’s March California and co-chair of Women’s March Inland Empire. She greeted each participating group, shouted out to feminists, young people, unions, proud male feminists, nasty women, bad hombres and neo feminists, among others.
All in all, it was a beautiful morning.