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Mixed Emojis: Voices from the Los Angeles Women’s March 2018

Carmen Martinez switched back and forth from elevating her voice with a megaphone to listening thoughtfully to stories that began circulating among a group that had splintered away from the mass of marchers at Saturday’s 2018 Women’s March in downtown L.A.

“I am marching for all those women who don’t have a voice to speak up today,” Martinez, a 20-year-old activist, told me. “Whether they are not allowed to, or whether they are undocumented and afraid, or they just are not at this point yet. That’s okay.”

A young girl, who looks to be no more than twelve years old, begins to share her fears about her immigrant parents. She is scared they will be deported and then she can’t finish speaking. Instead, she breaks down and cries.

The circle grew even tighter.

Carmen Martinez. (All photos by Lena Nozizwe)
Carmen Martinez. (All photos by Lena Nozizwe)

Martinez works with a youth advocacy group named Brown Issues. She came down to L.A. from her base in South Sacramento, organizing a contingent of women mostly in their 20s. The grassroots female millennial presence was deliberate, part of a response to the backlash that said the first Women’s March was rubber-stamped with the presence of Democratic candidates and celebrities, and unwelcoming to marginalized communities.

Martinez was at last year’s march, in Sacramento. I asked how she would compare the two years using emojis.

Last year earned a pink flower for Martinez, but 2018 got serious. “The emoji I would use this year would be a brown muscle arm emoji and the fire emoji,” she said.

Her group, dressed in white sweatshirts that spell out “V-O-T-E-R” in black on the front, and feature a graphic of a clenched fist inside of a red heart on the back, is greeted with applause from fellow protesters when they find their position with the rest of the marchers.

“In order to make things inclusive and get what we want. We need to fight those things, and get out of our comfort zone,” Martinez said. “It may be scary, but you have to move forward.”

To hype the crowd even more Martinez and company pumped up the volume to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on a portable sound system. The iconic song blasted through the streets.

‘You’ve got to show up. Show up and have a say.’

In the crowd, Margie and Diana were within earshot of Martinez’s jams. The partners in life wore elongated paper Pussyhats with a papal vibe.

Margie and Diana.

Like Martinez, this was their second year marching. Like Martinez, they heard the critiques.

“In all honesty, we are concerned as white women out here that Black Lives Matter,” said Margie. Diana interrupted with a laugh — “I’m not white!” To which, Margie responded, laughing: “I know, you are Latina, Hispanic.”

Grab ‘em by the midterms

A year ago Margie was not amused. She felt furious when attending the 2017 Women’s March. Now she said she is focused and determined, “with a hint of anarchy.”

Both she and Diana wanted to mark up their bright pink paper hats with hashtags reflecting causes they support. They could not settle on one so they left their chapeaus blank.

“There are a bunch of things we believe in and I wanted to write all of them. ‘Save DACA,’ ‘#Metoo,’ ‘Black Lives Matter,’ all of these things mean a lot to us,” said Diana. “I think as a woman with a nurturing spirit I care about everybody, not just women.”

Last year she said she felt hope and love. This year, Diana’s emoji is “angrier than ever.”

There were a lot of striking prompts throughout the protest route, reminding me that Los Angeles really has some of the most colorful and memorable displays of dissent in the world.

Signs ranged from the humorous to direct calls to action, including an illustration of a fallopian tube flipping the bird, to the words: “Grab ‘em by the midterms.” One of the most heartbreaking signs was held by a somber young teen. It said: “I’m 14 #Metoo.”

One group dressed up as “nude” women, with anatomically incorrect faux pubic hair. “To promote body positivity,” they said.

There was another disguised as a coven of witches, complete with“Bewitched”-style hats. They handed out flyers with instructions on “A Ceremony to Strengthen Your Anti-Capitalist Coven.” The self-proclaimed values of these women in black include privacy rights, environmental protection, and religious freedom.


African-American marcher Katie Lee said she would also use an angry emoji to describe her feelings this year, in contrast to her initial shock in 2017. The words on the sign she carries were profane and an in-your-face acknowledgement of the influential votes of black women. It said “F— it, I’ll do it - Black Women.”

Almost 98 percent of black women in Alabama voted for Democrat Doug Jones in a special election last December for an open US Senate seat. That spawned the hashtag #ThankBlackWomen. Sixty-three percent of white women in the ruby-red state were OK with voting for a Republican in that race, the Trump-backed accused child molester Roy Moore. He lost by a 28,000 vote margin.

And while the majority of white women voted for Donald Trump nationwide in the 2016 election, more than 90 percent of black women cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election.

Katie Lee, seen right.

Lee said she believes that helping liberal and progressive candidates win in this year’s midterm elections would be a salve to supersede any wounds that might have led her to boycot this year’s Women’s March.

“You’ve got to show up. I said ‘It’s bull----.’ You’ve got to show up. Show up and have a say,” Lee told me. “If you are going to stay home and bitch about something, then that’s not really a point of view.”

As many as five million demonstrators, just in the United States, took part in the 2017 Women’s March. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti estimated the local count at 750,000 last year and 600,000 this year. (Note, the numbers are all over the place.)

Michelle, an African-American woman who showed up this year wearing cat-eye sunglasses and a Pussyhat, said she did not why the numbers might have fallen. “I don’t understand that to tell you the truth,” Michelle said. “There is more of a reason to come out now than last year.”

Fecal pits, Russia and Stormy Daniels

Her express motivation for attending the march was less about promoting a cause and more about protesting Donald Trump, Michelle said, and she had plenty of company. Recurring themes of anti-Trump signs included references to fecal pits, Russia, and even Stormy Daniels — the adult film star who was reportedly given hush money after an alleged sexual encounter with the current president.

Michelle watched all the signs and demonstrators go by, including Carmen Martinez, from a berth on a side street. Martinez eventually stopped marching at the edge of Grand Park in front of City Hall.

She helped form another circle. But now the circumference has multiplied thanks to friends, followers, and strangers who have joined — for the music, for the cause.

This time there are no tears, but tunes from the likes of Rick James and M.I.A.

Suddenly the scene of bobbing protest signs in the hands of demonstrators busting moves resembles “Soul Train,” the woke version. Martinez unabashedly got her swerve on right in the middle of the ring. And that young girl who was crying earlier now watched with a smile. Juxtaposition? No. Martinez said it’s just as it should be.

“It’s dance time because music and dance bring people together. There’s not a certain language you need to know. Everyone knows how to move. This is a form of resistance,” Carmen Martinez said.

“This is our resistance.”

Good thing there’s an emoji for dancing too.

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