Marching On: an Interview with the Coordinators of the SLO Women’s March

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10,000 in San Luis Obispo

500,000  in California

4 million in the United States

5 million around the world

On January 21, what started as a haphazardly organized Facebook event became the largest march of its kind in history. What should’ve taken months to organize came together in a matter of weeks. On February 1, the Wire had the opportunity to sit down with Dawn Addis, one of the coordinators of the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo, and talk about what compelled her to take part in such a historical event, what she hopes for the future and who helped her along the way.

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Source: The New York Times


Addis, who works with English Language Development programs in the local San Luis Obispo school district, was one of the many upset with the results of the election. As someone who works with immigrant families and children, she could understand why so many Americans were feeling scared and helpless.

“When you’re sitting across the table from someone and they’re telling you how scared they are, or hearing what kids are going through, whether it’s locally or different places in the nation, that has been very painful for me,” Addis said. “I was trying to figure out what my path is, what I wanted to do, how to share my voice, [when I] saw the Women’s March in Washington.” Unsure of how safe it would be to march at the Capitol, she started thinking about having one in SLO.

As it turned out, quite a few people were interested.

Political Science junior Ellie Lupo and Child Development senior Winnie Chen would turn out to be two of 10,000 women and men who marched in SLO. But they didn’t just participate in the march— they were an integral part of organizing it. The week after the election, they applied to become interns for the SLO Democratic Party.

“I think I can speak for both of us when I say we were pretty upset and were just trying to figure out how to take action,” Lupo said. “You’re just sitting there like ‘what next?’ I can’t just sit around and cry anymore. We wanted to get involved in the community.”
That was how a small group of women in SLO started one of the biggest marches in history.

NOV 12

“Nice girls don’t change the world.”

When Addis started organizing the March with her friend Jen Ford, comments like these were one of the biggest struggles she faced. The Women’s March was to be a non-violent, non-partisan march, but that drew a lot of criticism because many people believed that it was impossible not to pick a side.

“At the very get-go we really, as a group, had to do some soul searching about what we were for,” Addis said. “It’s about your intentionality. Do you want to put your energy into what you hate, or do you want to put your energy into where you want to be?”

The March in SLO, like the National March in Washington, followed the six principles of Kingian non-violence, which encouraged staying true to messages and ideas rather than attacking people. Addis acknowledges that following these principles is difficult in a time when people are feeling threatened and scared, but also argues that it takes more courage to stay hopeful.

Winnie Chen and Ellie Lupo at the Women’s March (Credit: Ellie Lupo)

Though the March was non-partisan, the SLO Democratic Party played a large part in organizing the event. Chen and Lupo, as two interns, took roles as outreach coordinators and contacted different organizations at Cal Poly to get them involved in the march. SLO Solidarity, the Multicultural Center and the Women in Gender Studies Department were a few of the many organizations that had booths set up during the march.

The interns had been given a script for the e-mails they sent out, which stated that people should bring signs that represent what they are marching for rather than what they’re standing up against.

“I think that that sums it up really well that we’re looking towards the future and not looking at all the things that are pushing us down in this moment,” Chen said.


Ten weeks later, what was supposed to be a march of 300 people became a march of 10,000.

8:00 AM

A million things were running through Addis’ mind— the kind of things you ask yourself when you organize an event that was meant to be for 300 people: Where are the police I’m supposed to be coordinating with? Are people going to be safe?

These were only slightly different from the questions you ask yourself when 10,000 people end up showing up: Oh, my god. Are there enough bathrooms?

9:00 AM

Lupo and Chen were checking in volunteers at Action Alley. The booths and tents were set up across from each other in a line, where many Cal Poly organizations and other non-profits were talking to marchers.

“I thought it was amazing because all these women and men felt passionate about this cause and took up their morning to help out,” Lupo said. “Every single volunteer spot was taken, and we had people coming up and asking if there were still spots to volunteer.”

10:45 AM

The police were unable to hold back the surging crowd. The weather app had said it wasn’t going to rain that morning, but it had already started drizzling. A young boy in a blue parka held up a sign that said “Feminist in training.” Under a canopy of umbrellas, the blocks between Santa Rosa and Osos were packed with marchers.

“Show me what democracy looks like!” “This is what democracy looks like!”

11:15 AM

The heavens opened up.

“We were standing at a standstill outside Peet’s, and it suddenly started pouring buckets,” Chen said. “It was unreal. Everyone was screaming and whooping and hollering, and I’m getting poured on, every single inch of my body is drenched. But in [that] moment, I feared nothing.”

Watching as people of all shapes, sizes and colors danced and sang in the rain, Addis came to the conclusion that, yes, nice girls could change the world.

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When The Wire sat down with Dawn Addis a few weeks afterward, she discussed what the lasting effects of the march were, and what she has been doing since then.

Addis felt that the march garnered so much attention because it wasn’t “nasty”; it wasn’t spiteful or vengeful. Instead, the march gave people something to look back on when they are feeling alone or at a loss. It gave them hope.

Interview with Dawn Addis (Credit: Anjana Melvin)

“I think it drew people in that aren’t used to taking action, and they aren’t used to getting out and getting in the streets and voicing their opinion. I think we engaged a lot of people who wouldn’t have come to an angry protest,” Addis said.

While many people look back at the march fondly and with a sense of unity, Addis is looking back and wondering who wasn’t there and why. Looking toward the future, Addis hopes to engage those people and build partnerships.

Winnie Chen, as someone who had not only participated in the march but also helped organize it, had her own thoughts on the issue. “I do have to take into consideration the demographics [of SLO], but I do agree that it could be more well attended,” she said. “As a woman of color, I can see why a person of color would refrain from attending protests. I think that we’re socialized in such a way that we’re inferior to the white person, and our voices may not be as valued. I don’t want to generalize either, but maybe some of them would feel discouraged or feel like their voice doesn’t matter, which isn’t true at all.”

Both interns felt that participating in the march left them more hopeful than they had felt since Nov. 8.

“For the community in general, obviously it connected our little town in SLO to a wider national movement that’s happening,” Lupo said. “I went home and looked at the news and saw the march in D.C. and I almost felt like I was there. All these women came out across the country, and we were together that day.”

More than anything, unity was the biggest legacy of the Women’s March. Looking forward, Dawn, Winnie and Ellie will continue to work towards a more unified and inclusive community in SLO to ensure that the legacy of the march remains a persistent reminder of what a group of ‘nice girls’ can accomplish.


** The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Women in Business and its members.

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