What locals are calling the biggest rally in memory gathered in the Sonoma Plaza on Saturday, then spilled out into the streets, at one point blocking traffic on Napa Street and generating a police call-out. But that didn’t dim the positive glow from the rally, the local “Sister March” of the national Women’s March on Washington.
“We were just floored by how many people showed up. Like, who knew?” said Aiko-Sophie Ezaki, one of the organizers of the local event, along with Nancy Dito, Kathy Aanestad, Joan Howarth and others.
The event formally began about 11 a.m. with remarks from Pastor Curran Reichert of the First Congregational Church on West Spain. A relative newcomer to Sonoma – she worked for 10 years in Tiburon – Reichert had prepared some comments in anticipation of a crowd of about 500.
“We are here because we believe we are stronger together, because we will not let cynicism rule the day, because we want to be counted with our sisters who are marching on Washington today,” she shouted to the largely – though far from entirely – female gathering.
“Unfortunately, with only one bull horn it became impossible to hear over the gathering crowds,” said Reichert later. “We ultimately abandoned the script and started marching!”
The original intention was to gather in front of City Hall at 11 a.m., then march twice around the Plaza and disband by 12:30. That was fulfilled, more or less, but the crowd was much larger and getting around the Plaza took much longer than anticipated.
“Usually you’re lucky to get 10 or 20 people to stand out there with their signs,” said Gary Saperstein, of Out in the Vineyard and a board member of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. “But to have thousands of people out there was just an amazing feeling. And the energy and electricity in the air, it was like a bonding experience.”
Shortly after noon, a group of teens from the high school came marching up Broadway to join the Plaza demonstration it caused a temporary traffic tie-up. A Sonoma County police scanner dispatch at 12:05 p.m. announced, “Crowd control needed. There are 2,000 people blocking the crosswalk in downtown Sonoma.”
“I noticed all these people were in the street. I thought, “Oh no! I had promised the police we wouldn’t do this!” said Ezaki. “But there were so many people at that point, there was no way anyone could control it.” She said contacting the school-aged kids had been frustrating, and she was never sure if or how many would participate. “They had been the hardest group for me to engage and connect with, and to see them show up with their families was really sweet. It was amazing.”
Sgt. Jason Craver of the Sonoma Police said there were a couple men in particular who seemed to lead the group into the street, but once most of the demonstrators undersood that this was not part of the march’s plan, they dispersed. He also disputed the widely-reported crowd estimate of 3,000, calling it too high. “I’d say the crowd was maybe 1,500 or 2,000 people,” Craver told the Index-Tribune. “Probably if you took the entire group from a Tuesday Night Market and put them out there and marched them around, you’d probably have about the same amount of people.”