On April 13, during the annual event dinner Power to the People organized by the SLO County Democratic Party, Women’s March SLO received an “Inspire” award for inspiring activists throughout San Luis Obispo County. We are grateful for this recognition!

We are committed to continue our work for a positive and just future for all and we know the only way to get there is together. We want to thank every one of you for your continuous support, energy, motivation, and for showing up, speaking out and advocating for women’s rights, human rights, civil liberties and social and environmental justice! Thank you!

Andrea Chmelik, a Women’s March SLO lead, spoke at the Power to the People about the Women’s March SLO purpose, mission and upcoming events. You can read the transcript below.

If you asked me 3 years ago where I expected to see myself in 2019, it wouldn’t be here. And I don’t just mean this place. I suspect this might be true for some of you as well.

The 2016 presidential election was significant for me personally because it was the first election that I was eligible to vote in as an American citizen. And I take my responsibilities seriously. I was extremely concerned because I had been watching the rise of the far right populism and politics of division and fear mongering across Europe, including my home country of Slovakia. In 2013, a man who walked around in a Nazi uniform was elected a governor of my home town region. My home town is a lot like San Luis Obispo. And it was not supposed to happen there. But it did.

I woke up the morning after the November 8, 2016 heartbroken, because it felt like this global trend of electing autocratic leaders was unstoppable. So what did I do? Well, I went on Facebook, because that’s where my entire social life had moved after having children. And I typed in this, “So what do I do? Locals – any organizations that need volunteers, preferably related to immigration or women’s rights? I’m good at filling out forms, writing, social media managing, and baking brownies. I will leave organizing protests to someone else, because that is not my strongest skill.” Well…little did I know.

A few days later I got in touch with Dawn Addis and Jen Ford who had already started planning a Women’s March in San Luis Obispo, and Pat Harris and Terry Parry joined right around then as well. Five strangers connected by the same desire for love and respect being louder than fear and division. And, as it turned out, that connection extended far beyond anything that we had imagined.

10,000 people marched in San Luis Obispo, including many of you, 1 million in California and 5 million all around the world. A women led movement, with chapters across the country, from big cities to tiny towns, in blue states and in red. Women who, like me, used to think that their best skillset was baking brownies, rose as leaders and inspired masses, and did so in a non-violent, respectful way.

Shortly after the march our fears started to realize – Muslim ban, attacks on healthcare, targeting of minorities and communities that were already vulnerable, dismantling of environmental protections, separating families at the border, transgender military ban – it truly felt like every day brought a new level of cruelty and ugliness. But those who stepped up refused to go back to just baking brownies. Following in the footsteps of those who marched before us, we understood it was up to us now. And there was no going back.

The mission of Women’s March SLO is to unify and empower those who stand for women’s rights, human rights, civil liberties, and social and environmental justice for all. Since January 2017, we organized marches, vigils, town halls, educational panels, postcard writing parties and phone banking. We ran social media campaigns and organized events to encourage women to run for office and to vote.

In 2018, record numbers of women ran for office, and with you help, record numbers were elected, including WMSLO founder Dawn Addis who is now a city council member in Morro Bay. We now have the most LGBTQIA people, Muslim women, young women and mothers ever representing us in Congress. In San Luis Obispo, we now have the first woman, and Latina, in over 3 decades elected in Paso Robles – Maria Garcia; the first African-American person and woman elected in San Luis Obispo – Erica Stewart, the first progressive woman in a decade elected in Atascadero – Susan Funk, and we have tripled the number of women mayors across the county.

In March of 2018, we helped local students organize the March for Our Lives in San Luis Obispo, attended by 7,000 people. All leftover funds that we raised for the MFOL are currently being used for student activism grants – every student in SLO County is eligible to apply for up to $500 toward a project that supports one of the WMSLO Unity Principles – ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, workers rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice, as well as voter registration.

We have given out 3 grants so far, one for the Cal Poly Planned Parenthood Generation Action conference UnstoPPAble with Loretta J. Ross as a keynote speaker, one to support Federal Title IX policy changes comment period and one to support an evening with the Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss.

In the meantime, chapters across California and the US created a network, building relationships with their communities and other local organizations, which allows for targeted efforts and rapid responses. Women’s March SLO is a member of Women’s March California that connects hundreds of local activists. I have recently met with the leaders of Women’s March Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz to see how we can collaborate closer and amplify each other’s actions.

Currently, we are already planning for 2020. It will take every single one of us – and a whole lot of brownies – to accomplish what we have set out to do, but we are ready, and we know you are too.

In the upcoming months, we are planning a panel with newly elected women representatives who will share their experience and advice with those who are considering running in 2020. We’re planning to host a town hall with Congressman Carbajal sometime in the fall and we are working on several other projects that we look forward to sharing with everyone soon. We will continue building bridges, connecting with people in our communities and empowering women to lead. Because when women lead, amazing things happen. You get a picture of a black hole, for example, which was unthinkable until it was done.

In the parallel world of my home country, thousands of people marched last year when an investigative journalist and his fiancee were murdered after he exposed corruption in the government. It was strangely comforting organizing marches here and watching people on the other side of the globe marching for the same set of values.

One of those people marching in Slovakia was Zuzana Caputova. Last month, she was elected the first Slovak woman president. A liberal environmental activist with no prior political background, she campaigned on platform of humanism, solidarity and truth. After the election, she said, “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.” Slovakia is a tiny country of 5 million people. Yet it has shown to the world that there’s an alternative to illiberal forces and centralized political control, proving that no matter how small the community, it can be the beacon of light. It’s our turn now.

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