Women’s March 2019: Joy, Fury, and a Nancy Pelosi Sighting

By Kim Christensen
Photos by Tumay Aslay

Feeling emboldened after the big gains in the women’s wave election in November, thousands gathered for the third Women’s March in San Francisco on January 19, 2019.  A mix of emotions from joy, fury, rage and defiance, to sisterhood, friendship, solidarity and humor were reflected in the marchers’ signs and slogans. Mayor London Breed and Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke to the crowd in front of San Francisco City Hall, urging them to stay active and “stay woke” as Lee said.

Sharing the stage were artists, poets and leaders from an array of movements and organizations including the Native American Health Center, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Transgender Initiatives, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Planned Parenthood NorCal, Global Fund for Women, Coalition on Homelessness, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, Muslim social justice leaders, and activists raising awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

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After two hours of speeches, the crowd’s energy was boosted by joining the walking wave of women on Market Street led by Native American and Indigenous women. Pink pussy hats were sprinkled throughout the crowd, along with giant Ruth Bader Ginsberg faces on sticks bobbing up and down. The Supreme Court Justice’s ‘Notorious RBG’ meme was still going strong, as were well wishes after she suffered a few broken ribs. 

Young feminists in training – kids in red wagons, strollers, baby wraps, on shoulders and on foot – showed off their art skills on posters. One girl carried a “Pelosi Power!” sign with a hand-drawn portrait of Speaker Nancy Pelosi topped by a little gold crown. She was surprised when people started waving at her and she looked back to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself marching down Market Street. Other signs in the crowd said, “Stay Strong Nancy!”

"Speaker Nancy Pelosi at San Francisco Women's March" photo by Tumay Aslay

"Speaker Nancy Pelosi at San Francisco Women's March" photo by Tumay Aslay

Amy Morgenstern, a local artist attending her third Women’s March in San Francisco, was encouraged at the energy and turnout Saturday. “The good feelings actually started on the BART train, where women had a chance to chat and enjoy each other’s signs and creativity,” said Morgenstern. “This shows the importance of assembly and community.” 

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Large crowds also gathered for the Women’s March in Oakland and San Jose, numbering in the thousands. Over 100 marches and rallies were held in cities and towns across the U.S., with sister marches popping up around the globe again this year. While the Women’s March started in response to the shocking loss of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, it also launched a global movement of solidarity and protest reflecting women’s general dissatisfaction and fury over patriarchy and abuse of power. It was a match that sparked a feminist wildfire around the world.

WOMAN MADE: Seismic Sisters Art Show

Hailey Gaiser’s Mother

Hailey Gaiser’s Mother

“WOMAN MADE: A Seismic Sisters Art Show” was the centerpiece of a party celebrating the launch of Seismic Sisters Magazine. Hosted at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco on October 12, 2018, the night was filled with art, music by B-Side Brujas, and an unforgettable live performance by Rhodessa Jones. Twenty Bay Area artists, some established and some emerging, contributed to the WOMAN MADE Art Show curated by Tumay Aslay. Neon artist Meryl Pataky and wood sculptor Aleksandra Zee showed pieces alongside fiber artist Hannah Crawford, who brought her “Bust” and “Vocal Chords” sculptures. 

Aleksandra Zee’s wooden squares

Aleksandra Zee’s wooden squares

Hailey Gaiser’s glowing “Call Me Mother” painting set the stage for an evening filled with woman power and creative fever. Audrey Bodisco’s exquisite watercolors “Booby Trap” and “No Two Alike” celebrated the beauty and variety of breasts. Louise Alban’s ceramic sculptures “Flow One, Flow All” hovered near paintings and multimedia art by Melanie Alves, including two life-size pillow sculptures of women’s bodies that invited viewers to sit down and reflect their thoughts in a journal. 

Shannon Tallcouch’s luscious red “Fallen Petals” vibrated with energy, as did Olivia Krause’s bright paintings with one named “It’s Not a Date.” Carissa Potter Carlson showed several sweet and lovely illustrations including “May You Feel Safe.”

Photographers showed a collection of works, including Lorena Jimenez revealing glimpses of the Tenderloin, Buu with her powerful and sensitive portraits, Ashley Habr with striking portraits of women in Africa, and Tumay Aslay with street photography. Painter Miranda Evans sold her first piece and is feeling encouraged to fully dive in and make her career in art. Graphic designer Tori Seitelman showed colorful prints in addition to having designed the WOMAN MADE Art Show poster. Conceptual artist Amy Morgenstern capped off the show with her “Becoming Plant” multi-media work of art.

Over 300 guests attended the art party celebrating the launch of Seismic Sisters Magazine. See artist bios and a virtual gallery of the art work at “WOMAN MADE: A Seismic Sisters Art Show.” A portion of proceeds from the art sales went to The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, directed by Rhodessa Jones.

Rhodessa Jones and The Medea Project: A Sisterhood of Healing

A Sisterhood of Healing
By Kim Christensen

Cast members of The Medea Project rehearse “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?” Photo by Tumay Aslay

Cast members of The Medea Project rehearse “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?” Photo by Tumay Aslay

Rhodessa Jones revels in the full range of her glorious womanhood. She’s the Great Mother, performer, artist, writer, creator and leader, healer and political activist. In touch with her sexuality and commanding others to delve and explore and demand their own pleasure. “It’s about the flesh, your flesh”, she says, and what happens to crack a woman’s soul when that flesh is violated.

Jones and her theater group The Medea Project are ready to reveal that and more in a new play “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?” at Brava Theater, October 25 - November 4, 2018 in San Francisco. The show explores the tragedy of domestic violence, digging into what it feels like to be abused, trapped, and betrayed by the person you once loved and trusted. It examines how the trauma of domestic violence sends out shockwaves that reverberate to negatively impact the family, community, and culture. The play asks how do we reckon with the damage and evolve our society to prevent this from happening in the first place?

As an artist and activist, Rhodessa Jones has been exploring the harsh realities of women’s lives for over 40 years. Looking for a path forward toward love, healing and social change, Jones carved one out herself by creating The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women. The project began at San Francisco County Jail in 1989. Jones was hired to teach Jane Fonda-style aerobics to incarcerated women to give them a healthy group activity. They were not amused and immediately shut down. 

Jones tried other techniques to get the women in touch with their bodies and emotions, to open up, as well as to build trust as their teacher. She started playing simple games, some familiar from childhood like ‘red light – green light,’ to cut through the tension and create a sense of play. Once they started moving their bodies, Jones found herself coming up with creative prompts and cues, like a theater director. 

While this was progress, Jones felt there was more to tackle, that there was a greater barrier and a deeper need among the women. The real hurdle was emotional as well as physical. It was the unearthed sexual violence and trauma experiences that most of the women carried around in their bodies and souls. That had to be dealt with and Jones helped them process that trauma in a tried and true method – a women’s circle. With a little more skillful prompting and encouragement, Jones witnessed the stories come pouring out of the women. A tsunami of pain.

While speaking out about previously unutterable crimes and experiences had some therapeutic value in itself, Jones recognized that there needed to be a next step to process and heal from these experiences. So the women began writing down their stories, editing and honing them, sharing them in front of the women’s circle, and ultimately turning their work into a group theater performance. That is how The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women was born. The troupe has been performing consistently for 29 years, both in jails and on the outside  at theaters around the country. 

Rhodessa Jones, Founder and Artistic Director of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. Photo by Tumay Aslay

Rhodessa Jones, Founder and Artistic Director of The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco. Photo by Tumay Aslay

The Medea Project performers are a mix of currently or formerly incarcerated women, professional actors and playwrights, and creative artists and souls who find themselves drawn in by the group’s unique artistic alchemy. The troupe meets at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco to rehearse and develop new material in their collaborative style. A magnet for free thinkers and spirits, The Medea Project attracts other artists and groups who want to blend efforts. 

Their new play, “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon,” was created in collaboration with the Women’s HIV Program at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center. Jones has been working with the university program since 2007. Doctors and public health researchers saw firsthand that giving women with HIV medication alone was often not enough – they were still dying at higher rates than expected. They discovered that trauma - both physical and psychological traumatic experiences, some in the past and some ongoing – was often linked to how the women contracted the virus and the thing that kept their patients from making progress in their health and recovery. 

Searching for a therapeutic tool to help Women with HIV address unresolved trauma, the University researchers contacted Rhodessa Jones and The Medea Project. Jones brought in her theater program techniques and began working with women living with HIV. Creating a safe supportive space – a sisterhood – from which the women could then begin to process and share their stories of trauma proved to be life changing for many of them. It broke the stigma, silence and isolation that had kept many trapped in a spiral of despair. Jones knows from decades of experience that art, storytelling, and theater is good medicine and can save lives. 

The researchers at UCSF saw the potential of this therapy and conducted a study to analyze the impact of The Medea Project on women living with HIV. In addition to finding benefits to disclosing HIV status in this kind of supportive group, other positive “impact themes emerged from the data: sisterhood, catharsis, self-acceptance, safer and healthier relationships, and gaining a voice,” stated the report on the study led by Dr. Edward L. Machtinger and published in the Journal of Association of Nurses in AIDS Care in 2015. 

This latest performance piece marks the return of The Medea Project to Brava Theater, which hosted their acclaimed “Birthright?” play in 2015. The concept for “Birthright?” grew out of a series of conversations with Planned Parenthood. The play explores the relationships between sexual violence, trauma, rage, speech, healing, love and empowerment through access to women’s health care including birth control and abortion. The play became the focus of “Birthright? – The Documentary” a video produced and directed by Bruce Schmiechen, as well as a resource / discussion guide for public education purposes.

Rhodessa Jones is an artist who has invented her own therapeutic technique to help women work through trauma. Mining the pain by telling and crafting deeply intimate stories of experiences many assumed were too terrible to utter. Then sharing them with stunned audiences, resonating with souls in the seats, and wresting control and power over these experiences. Rhodessa Jones is designing new pathways toward self-love and healing through a sisterhood of support. 

Jones is generous and shares her techniques broadly, working with women in South Africa prisons, lecturing at universities, and collaborating with academics, physicians, and public health researchers. A San Francisco Bay Area treasure, this woman’s art and social influence are reverberating out across the globe. 

See Rhodessa Jones and The Medea Project perform “When Did Your Hands Become a Weapon?” at Brava Theater, October 25 - November 4, 2018 in San Francisco.

She the People Summit 2018, Women of Color Gather in Power

Kim Christensen, San Francisco
Photos: Tumay Aslay

Holly J. Mitchell, California State Senator

She the People came roaring into town Thursday determined to shake up the political landscape by investing in the leadership and collective power of women of color. An energized crowd of about 500 squeezed joyfully into the Julia Morgan ballroom for the first “She the People Summit 2018” in San Francisco. The standing room only, sold-out event featured movement leaders and living legends, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee and civil rights leader Dolores Huerta. “We are in the presence of our very own royalty” said Holly Mitchell, California State Senator.

Kimberly Ellis, Founder of Unbought-Unbossed

Activists from 36 states across the nation flocked to the summit, which was a mix of rollicking rally, power networking event, and get-down-to-business political strategy session. Political stars shared the stage with soon-to-be famous leaders and activists. Black Lives Matter, Women’s March, UltraViolet, Higher Heights, ROC United, Native American women, domestic care workers, LGBTQ activists, and immigrants were among the diverse organizations and movements represented on stage by speakers at the event.

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, shared in her speech, “I believe that black people deserve to be powerful in politics.” She observed that “this summit is in the legacy of black women coming together to set our own agenda.” Garza offered a new economic vision, saying “we need to transform the economy from one that is predatory to one that is rooted in care.” The caring economy was called for as a paradigm shift by other speakers as well, including Ai-Jen Poo, Director of National Domestic Workers Alliance. The Alliance is working on groundbreaking family care legislation to address the current and coming need for in-home care of elders of the Baby Boom generation and beyond.

Tram Nguyen, DeJuana Thompson, Montserrat Arredondo, and Tory Gavito talk tactics

Speakers included rising star Kimberly Ellis, founder of Unbought-Unbossed, which she designed as “an incubator for the next generation of political disruptors.” Ellis is also the former executive director of Emerge California, which has become one of the most effective training programs for Democratic women who want to run for office. (Emerge “sisters” who went through the training include U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.)

Political tactics and strategies were hot topics at the event. Moderator Tory Gavito asked her panelists to get specific about how they were able to “leap over the old boys club.” Holly Mitchell, California State Senator, challenged each person in the room to take action, “do one thing when you leave the room,” such as sign up for a phone bank or donate to a woman candidate. Mitchell said, “In California, don’t assume it’s all good. Sisters, we got work to do.”

She the People tapped into something powerful as about 500 women from 36 states came to the summit, and many more tuned in to the live stream, according to founder Aimee Allison. She the People Summit got the details right too, providing a “Quiet Room” for nursing / pumping or general downtime; a red carpet-style media room for photos and on-camera interviews; as well as a lady DJ spinning woman-power tunes.

Alicia Garza at She the People

About She the People

She the People is a new political network. Its stated mission is to “advance our democracy by calling women of color fully into their fierce and loving leadership and collective power.” It highlights “women of color as the drivers of a new progressive political and cultural era.” She the People was founded by Aimee Allison, a San Francisco Bay Area leader, speaker, writer, activist and expert in women of color in politics. Allison is also the President of Democracy in Color and host of a popular podcast of the same name. She dedicated a recent podcast to telling the story of She the People. [You can link to the Democracy in Color Podcast here. ]