Community members gather for a Women's March SLO rally in February 2021. Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

Women’s March SLO (WMSLO) announced its dissolution via various social media posts this week, after six years of locally advocating for women’s rights through 56 rallies and events.

The organization was born following the election of former President Donald Trump. Their mission was “to create a  women-friendly world through education, advocacy and action,” focusing on principles of ending violence, promoting environmental justice and advocating reproductive, LGBTQIA, immigrant, civil, disability and workers’ rights, according to their website.  

The organizers of WMSLO are moving on to pursue their other endeavors, some of whom are involved in politics. 

WMSLO co-founder Dawn Addis was elected to SLO’s State Assembly District 30 in the 2022 Election. Additionally, organizer Rita Casaverde is the Chair of the Democratic Party, organizer Andrea Chmelik is District Director for Assembly District 30 and co-founder Jen Ford is a council member and district representative. 

“[One focus of ours] was working to get underrepresented people elected, including women,” Addis said. “I am now one of 50 women in the state legislature — more than any ever in California state history. Jen Ford is one of five women [on the] council. So, our work has been really effective.”

“Engagement” within SLO County stands out as a point of pride for Addis. She noted 10,000 people attended their first march in January 2017. 

“But the people of San Luis Obispo County and surrounding areas didn’t stop there; they continue and they continue today to be engaged in new ways to make change to create a more equitable and just society,” Addis said. 

Following the announcement of the dissolution, there has been an “outpouring of support and gratitude,” according to Addis. Leaders of local organizations have reached out and said they have started their respective organizations inspired by WMSLO. 

“One of the reasons we created the organization and organized almost 60 events was because people told us that it gave them hope and inspiration. That has been a continuing theme in the feedback that we’ve gotten,” Addis said. 

Despite the efforts of WMSLO, Addis acknowledges that there is still more work to be done to “create a women-friendly world.”

“[This work includes to] create access to reproductive care, to improve the childcare system to create equity for BIPOC and LGBTQIA women and people, to create equal pay, to get parity and representation and government, locally in the state legislature and beyond,” she said. 

According to Addis, WMSLO established “very strong networks across SLO County.” In their announcement, they said the remainder of their funds will be donated to local organizations dedicated to social and environmental justice. 

One such organization is SLO County UndocuSupport, an organization that works in collaboration with others in the area to provide services to the undocumented, immigrant population in SLO County. 

Program Manager of SLO County UndocuSupport Chelsea Ruiz said the email from WMSLO on Feb. 9 about the donation came as a surprise. Yet, the team is “grateful and humbled that Women’s March SLO would feel like we were worthy of funds, and we will absolutely put it to the best use in the really vulnerable community that we serve,” she said.

Ruiz said she respects the decision from the organizers to move on from WMSLO, but acknowledges the importance of the work they accomplished. She recalled attending WMSLO’s first march before she was ever affiliated with UndocuSupport — which she described as a “beacon of light.”

“[It was] at a time politically where myself and a lot of people in this community were feeling really defeated and really hopeless,” Ruiz said. “The fact that they were able to put together that incredible, inspiring event and to continue to do so much good in the community, it’s sad [they’re dissolving], but I also know that people like that are only going to go on to do bigger and better things.”

While she and her team are unaware of the amount of money being donated or any potential stipulations, they have certain programs in mind to invest into. 

One program that needs more funding are their community listening sessions for immigrants throughout the county, asking about needed resources and issues they face. While UndocuSupports provides dinner and free childcare to attendees, they would like to also provide incentives, like a gift certificate to the grocery store, “to compensate people for their experience, their time and their wisdom,” Ruiz said. 

Another use would be to add to the organization’s funds that are regranted to other organizations for direct aid, especially for undocumented immigrants. One example is those working with CAPSLO and in need of rental assistance.

“They can use it for those people who need it, without extra barriers,” Ruiz said. 

In terms of the overall impact WMSLO had on the community, Ruiz said it “gave us a banner to rally under.”

“[It was the idea that] things didn’t turn out the way we wanted to in the election, but we’re not going to be silent; we’re not going to stop; we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Ruiz said. “And we’re going to keep pushing for the rights of ourselves and other groups who have been disenfranchised.”