Hundreds of community members met together at downtown San Antonio on Saturday, March 5, in solidarity with women and social justice movements around the world, for the 26th Annual San Antonio International Women’s Day March.
The march was organized by Mujeres Marcharan (SA Women Will March), a local coalition of women advocating for a world free of exploitation, violence and oppression, and coincided with International Women’s Day, celebrated globally on March 8.
The first Women’s Day was originally called “International Working Women’s Day,” taking root in the labor movement. The march was established in 1909 as a day of remembrance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ strike.
?The march first emerged in San Antonio in 1985 as a weeklong series of events including lectures, workshops, film screenings and art exhibitions designed to put women’s issues at the forefront. The keynote speaker that year was San Antonio’s own labor hero, Emma Tenayuca, the Chicana organizer and activist who was instrumental to the 1938 Pecan Shellers’ Strike.
March participants gathered at Plaza De Zacate in Milam Park, an important site for women’s history in San Antonio where Tenayuca was first exposed to the intersecting issues faced by the city’s working-class families. Having previously been a space for social gatherings and the exchange of political ideas, Plaza de Zacate was ideal as the march’s starting point.
The pre-rally activities commenced with an indigenous blessing. The smell of copal, cedar, sweetgrass, and lavender filled the air as smoke surrounded the marchers and rose petals floated to the ground. In a mixture of Nahuatl and Spanish, the women sang, “En la Luna esta tu imagen, Tu eres fuerte. Sangramos, damos vida, damos leche y amor.” (In the Moon is your image, You are strong. We bleed, we give life, we give milk and love.)
As more people arrived to the plaza, Polly Anna Rocha, a queer, Xicana, trans-poet and musician, took to the megaphone to recite her poem calling for trans inclusivity:
“Do you use my right name? Do you say she, and her, and ma’am, like you would any other dame? Do you treat me the same or does it make you feel strange?”
The 2016 march theme, “This is the Moment _____,” asked participants to fill in the blanks with their own causes and concerns.
“My moment was ‘for trans voices to be heard,’ Rocha said. “San Antonio activist spaces and organizers haven’t made a strong enough effort to include trans folks, and in many cases, transphobic behaviors and rhetoric are excused without critique. So it is important for me to represent and to bring trans issues to the forefront in a way that is grounded in real life experiences.”
The marchers were led by youth and elders from the local community. Carrying roses, they guided the crowd of about 400 people through the streets of downtown San Antonio. The diverse range of issues that affect women’s lives in San Antonio were reflected in the many handmade signs and banners that marchers held with pride. Local issues such as the controversial Vista Ridge Pipeline, the exoneration of the San Antonio 4 and the police killing of Marquise Jones were represented.
Taryn Springs, a licensed vocational nurse, SATX4 member and motivational speaker, participated in the march for her first time last Saturday, and spoke with participants about mothers and victims of police brutality.
“We need to see a lot more diversity, meaning we need to hear the black women’s voice a little stronger out there,” she said. “It would be nice to have some city officials come out to hear the concerns and address them, because without effect means each year we will continue to fight the same cause year after year after year. We know the problems, what are the solutions?”
Laura Parra Codina was one of several who led the march on Saturday.
“This was a transformational moment,” she said after the event. “I was in my wheelchair and my daughter, Yasmina, was graciously pushing me. I felt my heart so full, knowing in my heart that we would survive simply because everybody was there with so much love in their hearts for one another.”
Each year the march takes place without a permit as a challenge to the City’s 2007 Marching Ordinance. Under the ordinance, organizers could be charged thousands of dollars for traffic control devices and police protection. Instead, a team of volunteer “peacekeepers” aids the marchers.
The women and youth “peacekeepers” spent the months prior to the march attending workshops and exchanging strategies on how to keep marchers safe. Paulina and Valeria Jimenez were two of the youth who participated as “peacekeepers.”
“This is the moment to be what you want to be,” Paulina said during the march.
For her sister, Valeria, being a “peacekeeper” was a service she was proud to provide.
“I wanted to be a peacekeeper because I wanted to be a woman that helps the community,” Valeria said.
Several people, like local resident Vanessa Quezada, held signs in remembrance of Berta Cácares Flores, an indigenous environmental activist who was murdered last Thursday in her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras. Quezada called for further investigation of Flores’ murder that many believe was perpetrated by “government or corporate business interests.”
“There are 991 environmental activists that have been murdered between 2002 and 2014; Most of these murders go unreported,” she said. “As an indigenous, native woman defending our waters here in Texas, I felt compelled to come bring these issues to the forefront of our consciousness to actively build solidarity with other parts of the world.”
Other marchers held signs referencing women’s rights to bodily autonomy. Some of the messages included “Mismos Impuestos, Mismos Derechos (Same Taxes, Same Rights),” “My Body, My Choice,” “Trans is Beautiful,” and “The Wage Gap Exists”.
The march ended at a pop-up park at the corner of East César Chávez and South Alamo Streets. Participants gathered over tacos while a diverse lineup of speakers, activists, and musicians shared their stories and music.
Vanessa Jimenez, member of the march’s organizing committee, said she is passionate about maintaining the march for years to come.
“To our foremothers … there is no way we can stop what they started,” she said. “It is so important for us to continue the work that they did, standing up for our rights and making sure that generations to come, like my girls, understand the importance.”
*Top image: The International Women’s Day March, held in San Antonio on Saturday, March 5, brought large crowds of women’s and civil rights activists together. Photo by Sarah Garrahan.