Local women band together in political activism
Amanda Covarrubias , firstname.lastname@example.org, 805-437-0218 Published March 17, 2017
At first, Darlynn Childress stood alone outside the Target in Westlake Village.
Soon, other women began walking up, greeting her with laughter and hugs. But this was no chance meeting of suburban moms at a store they visit often to pick up cereal, aspirin and paper towels.
It was a rendezvous to rally in support of immigration rights. The seven women, one man and six children carried handmade signs adorned with slogans such as “No Hate, No Fear, Love Wins” and “We Stand with You. Refugees are Welcome Here.”
They were preparing on the afternoon of March 7 to drive to Oxnard to join farmworkers, physicians and clergy members to call for a "safe city" declaration after the Trump administration announced plans to step up enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Childress and her friend Danielle Walsmith founded the Suburban Women's Advocacy Network after Donald Trump won the presidential election in November. The two, who met several years ago while serving in the PTA at their children’s school in Agoura Hills, attended a weekly meetup of moms in a local park after the election. The mood was grim.
“Our kids go to school together, and the Wednesday after the election, we gathered as we always do,” said Aimee Porter, of Calabasas, a mother of three. “But this time, we called it a mourning circle. We gathered there to talk about what had happened and where to go from there.”
Like many other activists propelled to action by Trump’s election, the women decided not to wallow in their misery but to do something about it.
They would start a group for their own tribe — suburban women who wanted to get involved in social advocacy and political activism, maybe for the first time, but didn’t know how to go about it.
They would meet up in a familiar place, like the parking lot of a Target or a neighborhood grocery store, and carpool to their destination. It might be the women’s march in downtown Los Angeles or a health care rally outside Republican Congressman Steve Knight’s Simi Valley office.
“Even though we try to encourage people to do things outside their comfort zone, we still try to make it accessible, less intimidating,” said Walsmith, who is in her early 40s. “Especially as a woman, it can be intimidating to arrive at a place you don’t know, and you don’t know if you’re going to be threatened or encounter counter-protesters. So to do that as a group or to know that when you get there, you’re going to see familiar faces, makes it a lot easier.”
More than 500 people from Woodland Hills to Ventura have joined SWAN’s private Facebook page, where Childress and Walsmith suggest rallies and events they may want to attend. The group also holds monthly meetings.
“This group and my activism was born out of the wreckage of the election,” Childress wrote on her personal Facebook page in January. “I wanted to DO SOMETHING! But what? When I turned to my friends, I found they were feeling the same desire, confusion and overwhelm. My friend Danielle and I decided to try to help figure out the HOW and share what we learned through SWAN.”
Members appreciate that the recommended events are curated for “something a suburban woman can do,” said Childress, 41, who is married with two sons.
SWAN chooses a different topic each quarter that members can focus on and educate themselves about, such as women’s rights, immigration and health care. The calendar is planned in advance and next January, the focus will be on Black Lives Matter.
Childress is honest about her lack of firsthand knowledge about Black Lives Matter but said she is willing to learn.
“Because we’re mostly white, we’ll have to get educated,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how to go about it.”
Linda Kuban, of Agoura Hills, said she appreciates the opportunity to get outside her “complacent bubble.” She said the response has been positive when SWAN members show up at rallies to support immigrants’ rights and other causes.
“How fortunate we are that we can be there for them,” Kuban said. “We are privileged. We’ve never had to have anyone be there for us.”
Childress acknowledges that SWAN members live in an area represented by elected officials, including Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, already resistant to Trump, so there’s not much to push back on, no politicians to shout down at town hall meetings.
Yet, she recognizes the uphill battle ahead with Trump in the White House and Republicans holding a majority in Congress.
“We’re going to have a lot of losses and very few wins,” she said. “But we can keep the pressure on and keep showing up at rallies.”
Childress and Walsmith prefer not to focus on political party affiliation. Instead, they view SWAN as an avenue for resisting Trump’s policies, no matter the member’s political persuasion.
They are on a first-name basis with local organizers for Indivisible, the national movement to resist the Trump agenda, and other activist groups. But Walsmith and Childress want SWAN to remain a separate entity with a singular purpose — to help suburban women get involved, speak up and show they care about where the nation is going.
“SWAN is just very practical,” Porter said. “It’s not trying to do something new. It’s just letting us know what’s going on. It’s connecting people to things that are already happening in a very organized way, and that’s helpful.”
As the group gathered outside Target, a guy in a passing car shouted, “Trump!”
“We hold up a sign that says ‘Resist Hate’ and they yell, ‘Trump,’” Childress said. “That says it all.”
Inside her SUV, while driving to the rally in Oxnard, Childress, a parent educator, explained to her sons sitting in the back that the Ventura County city 28 miles from Agoura Hills is a farming community where many immigrants live without legal documentation. But the majority of them work hard and don’t cause trouble and some have children who were born in the United States, she said.
Later, they waved signs and cheered when drivers passing by Oxnard City Hall honked their horns in support.
Childress said she was struck by how many older women are active in SWAN, people who have reached retirement age and have time to devote to advocacy. Childress and Walsmith say their contemporaries in their 30s and 40s with young children attend events when they can, and several showed up for the Oxnard rally, their kids in tow.
Walsmith, who worked in marketing and fundraising for nonprofits before her second son was born, said SWAN has opened her eyes.
“It’s actually fun to be part of a community and come together for a common cause,” Walsmith said. “I was surprised by that. I didn’t realize when we set out that I would meet so many new people and make so many friends and have like-minded conversations.”
For the gregarious Childress, it may open the door to elected office someday. People keep suggesting it, and she’s considering the notion. For now, she said, she’s content to be part of something bigger than the slice of suburbia she calls home.