December 14, 2018

Jewish marchers do their part in L.A. on a shabbat to remember

Helicopters and drones circled above Los Angeles on Jan. 21, snapping aerial shots of a city clogged with protesters in a human traffic jam from Pershing Square to City Hall. Organizers of the Women’s March of Los Angeles estimated the crowd at 750,000 as part of a series of marches occurring worldwide — from Washington, D.C., to Tel Aviv — one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

But participants such as Genia Kaplan-Quinn said the event was about more than the new commander-in-chief.

“This is a positive movement. It’s not anti-the orange guy; it’s pro-human rights,” the Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills congregant said.

Whatever it was, it was big. (The Los Angeles Police Department estimated the crowd at “well past 100,000,” according to a news release.) What originally started as a Facebook post by a retired attorney living in Hawaii evolved into what’s being called the largest protest in U.S. history, attracting more than 3 million marchers across the country.

By the end of the day in L.A., lawns were trampled and posters were abandoned — but, it should be mentioned, no arrests were made.

Kaplan-Quinn said it was important for her to attend with her two teenage daughters, Summer, 16, and Skylar, 14. The mother-and-daughter trio woke up extra early to hitch a bus ride with Temple Emanuel, which organized two buses to transport congregants to and from the event. The transportation alternatives? Some train stops were backed up with two-hour delays and nearby parking lots were crammed full.

Also on the Temple Emanuel bus was Gary Brown, who said he was marching for human rights, alongside his partner, Scott Stone, and their two sons, Harrison, 15, and Ethan, 13. The family discussed the march at the dinner table the previous night.

Maisy Myers, 7, of Porter Ranch, was among the young participants hoisting their signs at the march. Photo by Beth Meyers

Maisy Myers, 7, of Porter Ranch, was among the young participants hoisting their signs at the march. Photo by Beth Meyers

“Women’s rights is important because women’s rights are human rights,” Harrison said. His bashful younger brother agreed, and the whole family recounted watching Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s non-acceptance speech on the night of the election.

“The idea of sitting still and doing nothing makes us feel powerless and lazy,” Scott Stone said. When they found out Temple Emanuel was organizing buses, joining them was a no-brainer. “The fact that it’s a Jewish group, we can experience the march with people we know and love,” Stone said.

Rabbi Laura Geller (right), rabbi emerita at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, was part of a contingent from that congregation. Photo by Steve Factor

Rabbi Laura Geller (right), rabbi emerita at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, was part of a contingent from that congregation. Photo by Steve Factor

Event organizers couldn’t have forecast such a turnout. About 98,000 people RSVP’d on Facebook, meaning perhaps 652,000 did not.

Speeches started at 9 a.m. with a lineup of distinguished speakers, including Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz and directors of nonprofits including Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Jewish Women — LA. But after an hour of march-motivating spiels, the crowd started getting restless — tired of standing in one place too long, the space between people too tight to budge.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in the middle of an anecdote about his mother when the crowd broke into a chant.

Photo by David Blumenkrantz

Photo by David Blumenkrantz

What do 750,000 people chanting sound like? At first, it sounds far away, but soon it grows, getting deeper and louder, gaining momentum until it becomes a deafening wave.

“March, march, march!” the crowd chanted.

“I really thought it was a jet plane overhead, but, no, it was the sound of human beings roaring. It sounded like a wave, but it was people’s voices ricocheting off buildings,” said Allison Lee, who helped organize three buses from Leo Baeck Temple to downtown.

“We’ll march soon,” Villaraigosa responded to the frustrated mass, fueled with all this momentum and nowhere to go.

Photo by David Blumenkrantz

Photo by David Blumenkrantz

The members of the crowd were anxious. They were tired. They wanted to roar. Their frustrations were only amplified by the silence of Trump regarding the event. (The new president didn’t recognize the protests until a day later — and then only through a tweet that read, in part: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?”)

An hour later, the crowd was still in the same spot, the road too clogged with protesters to allow a march to City Hall.

“Thank you for your patience,” a disembodied voice said over the speakers, as would-be marchers held signs such as “#Free Melania,” “Nasty Women Unite,” and “Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My Uterus.” Many wore the march’s trademark garment: a pink knitted beanie made popular by Southern California activists.

For Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita at Temple Emanuel, the fact that the march took place on Shabbat was especially momentous. “On Shabbat we imagine the world as we want,” she told the Journal, “and we have to take the steps to make that happen.”

The march was finally underway around 11:30 a.m. “We need a leader, not a tweeter” was just one of many chants shouted on the slow, gradual march to City Hall. Upon arrival, activists were greeted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who told the vocal marchers, “Today we speak out, but tomorrow we act out!”

Photo by Carla Acevedo-Blumenkrantz

Photo by Carla Acevedo-Blumenkrantz

Many participants did not reach City Hall in time to hear the speakers. Lee was one of those people, but, for her, showing up was most important. “You’d think that standing stuck for an hour and a half, that you could get irritated, but everyone was encouraging and happy to be doing something and getting our voices heard,” she told the Journal.

The number of marchers was so massive that a second stage was set up at Broadway and Sixth Street, where celebrities and musicians — including Kerry Washington, U2’s The Edge and Juliette Lewis — made cameos to support the cause. A very pregnant Natalie Portman took to the stage as well.

“I want to thank our new president. You just started the revolution,” the actress told a cheering crowd before raising her microphone up in victory.

Immediately after, a girl in the crowd yelled at the top of her lungs, proud and defiant: “I am a nasty woman!”