Community Partner Spotlight

As San Francisco Pride announced on Wednesday, we will not be producing a large-scale Parade down Market Street in 2021. Given that this is Women’s History Month, we wanted to check in on another large-scale annual event that came to the same decision this year: The Women’s March San Francisco

Owing to a combination of the pandemic and a new administration, Women’s March may not have put together an event as it did every year since 2017, but they are nonetheless hard at work. On International Women’s Day, they put together Women Workers Rising! For $15, and on Friday, March 26, Women’s March urges people to join their Rise Up With Asians March & Rally

SF Pride spoke with co-founder Sophia Andary about the organization’s future, the fight for a living wage, and how to keep people engaged in the cause.  

What was the reason for not doing a big march this past January?

It costs too much money to do a march, about $65,000. We’re all volunteers. Having to find the money all the time is really stressful, and we’re in a pandemic. Regardless, we were not going to do an in-person march — but we might have done a rally, a more low-scale celebration. We weren’t going to do what we normally do, mainly because the [attendance] numbers have been going down and we can give the money to organizations that are doing groundwork. We teamed up with Women’s March Oakland for this one. Since it was virtual, we combined. 

Our biggest fear is that people aren’t going to be engaged. It’s a different administration — a good administration, but not a great one. We still have more work to do and it shouldn’t be based on who’s in office. I’m a very nice person and I’m always smiling, but sometimes I don’t know why I’m an activist, because I’m tired of people coming out to the march and taking pictures for social media and then they don’t do anything for the entire freaking year. That’s not why the team is working their butts off!  

So we said, “Let’s do something and call it Staying Engaged in 2021 and Beyond.” I’m the biggest fan of [One Fair Wage president] Saru Jayaraman, and we invited them and Moms Rising to do workshops. We also invited Ani Rivera from Galeria de la Raza, and Kimberly Ellis who is the new director of the Department of the Status of Women (I’m a commissioner on that commission). Ellis was our emcee for our fourth march, so we invited her and Ani to have a conversation on how people can stay engaged at a high level. 

Which groups does Women’s March work with the most these days?

We’ve worked with the League of Women Voters SF, NARAL Pro Choice California, Planned Parenthood Northern California, with S.F.’s Office of Transgender Initiatives. We did a callout to them and said, “Hey, here’s a form. Can you please fill it out with your needs for 2021, including if the need is money/funding?” It’s on womensmarch.org along with a recording of the event from Jan. 23. 

Tell us about your involvement in the Fight for $15. You yourself spoke at that event earlier this month. 

Women’s March didn’t organize it. One Fair Wage, Ultraviolet, and V-Day did, and they invited us. We’re very big on amplifying the work that other people do. The idea was to get out there on International Women’s Day to fight for fair wages. OFW is doing so much amazing work right one and their biggest thing is not just women but for people in the food industry. They are so fucking underpaid!  

They rely on tips, which is one of the most racist and most unfair ways to pay somebody — especially women. They have to put up with assaults, they have to put up with constant sexism. They’re depending on a freaking tip, so if someone grabs them they have to smile and shut up and take it. It’s such a disgusting thing that we’re still doing that. 

We should also point out that $15/hr is still only $32K a year. 

I was just reading an article about Jeff Bezos made $11 million per hour, but we can’t pay people $15? It’s still ridiculously low, but it’s better than the current federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers, $7.25 for non-tipped — and in San Francisco a cocktail is like $15 these days! You work two hours to get a cocktail! This is why I absolutely love the founder of One Fair Wage, Saru Jayaraman, who is one of the most effective organizers. I love when she speaks because she’s angry in a good way. Women are alway told, “Don’t be angry.” She’s like, “No, I’m pissed and I want you to know that I’m pissed, and I know what I’m talking about and you’re going to listen!” 

We always try to do something on International Women’s Day, and I thought this was one that we really needed to help push. While I was livestreaming from Facebook, there was a march by SEIU, the janitors and it was so beautiful because we kind of stopped. We let their march go through. They are such good organizers. We’re trying to be cautious, we want to make sure that people are being safe — but the good thing about San Francisco, for the most part, is people that are activists showing up are always wearing masks. We’re not going to Capitol Hill! 

What misconceptions does Women’s March face? 

What people don’t realize about Women’s March SF is we’re our own entity. Too many people clump us up with D.C., which has paid staff. We’re more grassroots, on-the-ground activists. We’re all volunteers, so that makes it a lot harder when we’re all having to deal with a pandemic. I don’t have children but a lot of the leads do, so it’s been hard to get the team together.  

Apart from physical marches, what other projects are you working on? 

We are working on a resource book. A lot of organizations come to us for mentoring. I helped with a couple marches for education. We do safety and security — we call them Peace Ambassadors — and provided them to a lot of marches in SF. We already have a volunteer pool that has been trained. Instead of the police being the show of force, it’s the community that’s standing and making sure that march management and people are being careful. We’re not a security force, but we’re putting our bodies on the front line to make sure others are safe. We want to create this kind of documentation of a resource book so that it’s easier for others. We’re about helping the next activists, any organization that wants help. We are wanting to do some virtual events and panels, but it’s been a little slow-moving until schools open up. 

Is there one particular issue that’s not being talked about enough? 

It’s very hard to answer that question. I want people to stop thinking about it like this. People need to show up for others, because their turn is coming up and they’re looking around, like”Why is no one helping me?” It’s cause you didn’t help anybody else, don’t give me that shit!  

One big thing that should have been done the first day: Get the kids out of cages. Don’t put a band-aid on it, get mental health professionals to start working with these kids and these women and these men who have been terrorized by our country. That should have been done the first day [Biden] walked into office.  

We have eight unity principles, and we’ve always fought from an intersectional lens. If something is happening to someone else in our community, even though it doesn’t affect us, you gotta show up for them — like Asian Americans right now, especially elderly Asian women. There’s going to be a march on the 26th. I contacted the organizers, offering help for safety volunteers to show up there to kind of be the safety barriers.  

We have Kavanaugh and a woman who hates women on the Supreme Court. People forget that! There’s a majority of conservatives in the Supreme Court, so our right to choose is in jeopardy. And people want to keep their head down? We worked our butts off, so can you guys please stay active? It shouldn’t just be my job as a queer, Middle Eastern woman to help end sexism, racism, transphobia, misogyny, homophobia. Everyone should be doing it. The ones that are impacted the least should be doing the most.

Rise Up with Asians March and Rally

Friday, March 26, 12:30-3 p.m., Union Square, San Francisco, CA

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