The Ms. Q&A: How Emiliana Guereca is Marching on in 2020

The 2020 election is looming ever closer—and this weekend, women around the country will rise up at the 2020 Women’s Marches to demand a feminist agenda in Washington, D.C. and call for feminist leadership on Capitol Hill.

In Los Angeles, Saturday’s March will mark the beginning of an entire year of civic engagement and activism by the Women’s March LA Foundation headed up by Emiliana (Emi) Guereca, who organized the 2017 LA Women’s March and each subsequent event and launched the non-profit in 2017 to extend its mission.

The Women’s March Foundation in LA doesn’t organize an annual event—they mobilize members every day to get more engaged in the fight for women’s equality. That mission is shaped by Guereca’s background as a Latina immigrant who arrived in the United States undocumented and grew up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side, and by her work advocating for racial justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.

I always like to start with an inception story, and you’ve been organizing these since way back when. How did you come to be the organizer of the LA Women’s March?

This is our fourth annual women’s march in Los Angeles—and I love that it seems like way back when! It feels like it.

I started organizing the day after the 2016 election. I felt sad. I felt sad after the election. I felt sad for women. I felt like I needed to do something. I didn’t quite know what. I went on social media and I saw that there was a march being organized in D.C. I emailed the organizers, ’cause I had no idea who that was, and I sent them a message that I was going to organize a march in Los Angeles.

I never got a response—I think they were probably overwhelmed—so I began organizing. I actually applied for permits and street closures the day after the election, because I was positive that we needed to do something here in Los Angeles. Everyone I organize with, and still do—we’re strangers, people that just said we will help, whether it was on social media or emails or friend of a friend. But people I didn’t know, like my co-chairs, my lead staff, we were all strangers in 2016.

Can you tell us a little bit about this year’s theme and what you’re kind of hoping to achieve specifically at the 2020 Women’s March in LA?

This year’s theme is Women Rising, and, you know, we talk throughout the year about what is it that we need to be doing as women? Our main goal and our objective really is to have women and our supporters and allies raise their voice to demand that the next president of the United States have a clear agenda to advance and protect women’s rights. I think that it’s imperative that that is at the forefront in 2020.

Yeah! And something that I’ve often talked to people about is that we focus on here at Ms. is the idea of marching on—that there have to be these actions, these sustained actions after every Women’s March, to really keep the movement going. What do you hope are some of the things that people take away from the March?

The biggest thing for us is that we have our Voter Action Alley at the March. Throughout the March, we will have voter action and social justice, nonprofit partner booths. At the March, we will also have an opportunity to write postcards to our senators as a voter action. Last year, we had postcards at the March that we sent on to save Title IX. We will have postcards for Title X this year. Last year we had 100,000 postcards written and sent out.

Voting is like a torch—you have to pass it on, you have to continue to show up. Democracy takes work, from all of us, whether that is phone banking or canvasing and registering voters, which is something we do year round. It’s something that marchers will have an opportunity to sign up for on Saturday at the March. I think for us it’s continuing to not just be a marcher, but actually be an activist, and an engaged activist, and an engaged voter.

I love this idea of you being inspired—albeit, inspired out of sadness in 2016—but coming together with this community of strangers. Now, this is your fourth year, and this is one of the most popular women’s marches every year. What have you learned as an organizer through organizing these events? And what do you think have been some of the greatest takeaways for you about the power of women in this political moment?

I think for me, it’s been the power of women, but also the, the community that gets built. For us it’s also that we’re cultivating leadership—and that sort of threw me off a little bit. I was like, okay: I’m going to organize and I’m gonna step away and go back to my business. But you cannot really do that. I mean—here we are, in 2020, and, you know, women’s equality is not explicitly recognized by the U.S. constitution. And so when we all sit around and organize, we talk about what more can we do, how can we all work together to make sure that our daughters, our sons grow up knowing that the future will be equal—because it’s not for us.

For us, the building of community has been incredible, and the cultivating leadership is huge.

Yeah. And, you know, that it is also a form of community, right? For the attendees. For people who can come to these marches and realize that they’re not alone, and that other people care about the issues that they care about, and that there are ways that they can take action.

What have been some of your favorite outcomes of the march in the years past? What were some of the impacts that you had that you’re most proud of?

When high schoolers call me and say: We want to book a bus to come register at the march. They feel like this is sort of a coming of age moment. They come to the march and they register to vote or pre-register. That’s huge for us.

The other thing is that we have a lot of college students coming out and learning how to register people to vote. I was at a grocery store not too long ago where someone asked if they were registered to vote, and I thought: Are they working here? No. It was just a student asking someone else if they were registered to vote and they had voter registration forms in their car. I don’t know that I have that wherewithal in my twenties, but I was so proud of this young woman saying, I can register you to vote, and just, you know, knowing how to do that.

So I think the leadership, again for young women—and also, I mean, we have five women that, you know, have come forward and are or were candidates to be president of the United States. I mean, I think that’s huge. When young women and women see other women in leadership positions, it now looks attainable, and we need to see more women in leadership positions in the political sphere in order to achieve equality.

Yes, definitely. And what has been the reverberation for you? You know, this is such a massive undertaking. To do it once is massive, but to do it four times in a row? How has being involved in the women’s march for you—as an organizer, but also just, you know, as a feminist, as an activist, as a concerned citizen—how has it impacted you?

Oh, wow. I think it opens my eyes. I think—like I said, I was working on building my business, I was working on building my family up to two young kids, and so I thought, oh, I’m not political. I vote, maybe, in a presidential election. I wasn’t really politically active, where now I am aware of how local politics really affect my life, way more than national politics. Now I know a lot more about local politics. I’ve now belonged to neighborhood councils.

I think I’ve grown with the march as an organizer. It has forced me to step up. It has also forced me to re-evaluate how I’m going to help achieve equality for women.

I also love that women’s March LA has this second life as a foundation and as a nonprofit. And you know, the Women’s March this year is so political because of the election. What do you see as the future of what you’re building here? What comes next after 2020 for the Women’s March in LA?

We are really working towards fundraising and putting together a women’s building in Los Angeles, like what existed in the 70s, and that will be part of our 2020 agenda.

We put together a nonprofit right after the election in 2016. We thought that we were going to embark on putting forth work on the ground, so we formed a nonprofit in 2016—but now, as we see it grow, we want to make sure that the women’s March isn’t just a moment, right? That we harness that power of our 2-million-plus supporters. That we harness all of the work that we’ve done.

I think that movement in general and this year’s March has to be focused on 2020. I think this is the election of our lifetime. I think that we need to all make sure that we are raising our voices, making sure that we are registered to vote, that we have a plan to vote and that the next president of the United States has a clear agenda to support advance, protect women’s rights. But more than anything, to know that we have a say in that—that we want a female on the ticket, that women demand quality. I think 2020’s election is critical for that. For us.

About

Carmen Rios is a feminist media-maker and movement-builder. She's currently a Consulting Editor at Ms. and the host of Bitch Media's Popaganda podcast, and was previously the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. and the Feminism Editor, Community Director and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. Her work has also been published by outlets like the Atlantic's CityLab, BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Feministing, Girlboss, Mic, MEL and Everyday Feminism; and she is additionally a co-founder of Webby-nominated Argot Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @carmenriosss.