In what they proclaimed to be an act of rekindled political resistance, hundreds of thousands of women — and men, and children, but mostly women — took over the pulsating streets of the nation’s capital Saturday to protest Donald Trump less than 24 hours after he assumed the presidency.
The demonstrators overwhelmed downtown Washington from just after dawn into the evening, in a show of force against a chief executive they see as threatening to the liberal views espoused by a popular majority that nevertheless lost the electoral vote. Massive marches to oppose Trump also took place in Miami, New York City, Chicago, Boston and other big U.S. cities, and other global capitals, including London, Paris, Sydney, Ottawa and Nairobi.
“I feel like my innocence was taken away the day he was elected. I had blinders on,” said Tracy Sassi, a 49-year-old from Fort Lauderdale who flew into Washington with her 15-year-old stepdaughter, Sofia Vera, who said the day had “kind of restored my faith in humanity.”
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So many more protesters spilled into Washington — an estimated half-million, about double what had been expected — that organizers scrapped their original route from a rally at the U.S. Capitol to the White House. For a brief, confusing period, it appeared no march would take place because the throngs were so big and unwieldy. But the crush of people moved as if with a mind of its own, walking down off-route streets even before the Capitol rally concluded.
“This is the upside of the downside,” feminist icon Gloria Steinem, 82, said from stage early on in the rally. “This is an outpouring of democracy like I’ve never seen in my very long life.”
The same streets that a day earlier had seen delighted Trump supporters make their way to the National Mall were now crammed by his most fervent opponents — a two-day display, if ever there was one, of the messy passions of democracy. In some Washington tourist sites Saturday, pink knitted “pussy-hats” stood side-by-side, in peace, with red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps.
From Florida came buses and planes of protesters, thousands of whom tried to make it into a Saturday morning breakfast hosted by female members of Congress, who now make up a majority of Florida’s Democratic congressional caucus. Many of the 4,000 people who RSVP’ed missed out on the bagels and coffee because the line to clear security at the Library of Congress venue was so long.
Inside, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston led chants of “We will not go back!” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach warned of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s likely 2018 run for the U.S. Senate, and the crowd booed. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, donning a pink scarf, cut in and asked, “May I be an honorary sister?”
“Enjoy the pay cut!” a woman in the audience responded.
Before the march, Stacy Kanas, a 50-year-old from Plantation, and her daughters, 16-year-old Rayna and 11-year-old Shira, posed for a photo with Wasserman Schultz. Rayna Kanas said she’d been called “just an angry Democrat” by her “ex-best friend” after the election.
“I have to stand up to the people that don’t understand,” she said.
Several groups of Florida women met to kick off the march at the intersection of Independence Avenue and First Street Southeast, including about 18 Miami friends and friends-of-friends who for weeks coordinated logistics via WhatsApp. One of them, 38-year-old Leticia de Mello Bueno, who was born in Brazil, teared up throughout the day, overcome by the little things, like an elderly man wearing a striped pink shirt in solidarity, and a little boy leading a chant from the rally stage.
“I started crying every five minutes since I got off the plane,” she said — referring to her connecting flight from Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina. “There are a lot of people hating on today, but I’m not paying attention to that.”
Trump, for his part, visited the CIA Saturday afternoon, where — much as he did as a candidate — he boasted about the number of people who had attended his swearing-in ceremony. He said they packed the Mall from the Capitol to the Washington Monument — apparently not so, according to aerial photographs.
Knowing Trump’s keen interest in crowd sizes, protesters Saturday repeatedly pointed to the strength in their numbers. In many cases, they couldn’t reach the rally stage, hear the speakers or communicate with each other on crushed cellphone networks. But they said they knew their presence mattered.
“We’re coming together to effect positive change, and we are the majority,” said Dolores Perera, a 43-year-old from Miami bundled in a red scarf and pink knitted hat.
In the weeks since the Nov. 8 election, the would-be protesters channeled their disbelief and frustration over Trump’s victory into organizing relatives, friends and communities. Their messages covered the span of progressive causes, from women’s rights to immigrant rights to LGBTQ rights to climate change, though what unified them in practice was their opposition to Trump. Their cardboard signs often displayed such colorful language that TV news cameras struggled to show many of them on air.
“I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit,” several of them read.
Many in the crowd paid tribute to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s defeated rival. She offered thanks on Twitter.
Former President Barack Obama was repeatedly alluded to — not by name, but with his signature 2008 campaign call-and-response: “Fired up? Ready to go!”
Though not an abortion-rights march per se, several pro-choice organizations helped put together the protest. Organizers took political heat for making a feminist anti-abortion rights group feel unwelcome to the point that its members did not attend.
Unlike at Trump’s inauguration a day earlier, celebrities filled the rally stage. March-goers strained to see or at least catch a JumboTron glimpse of the likes of actors America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson and Janelle Monáe, and of politicians such as new U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Kamala Harris of California.
For a massive march, the crowd during the day was often hushed, breaking into jubilant chants that turned into rolling cheers across city blocks. The D.C. Metro, which had been manageable Friday, brimmed with humanity Saturday; one (female) conductor thanked passengers “for making history today” before advising them not to lose sight of the people they were traveling with.
For de Mello Bueno, the Miamian who marched with her group of friends, the day was worth it even though it required hours of standing idly with no sight of the stage, as smells from nearby porta-potties wafted by and her snack supply of pistachios and homemade rye bread dwindled. As impatient protesters started off on their own marches, she and her friends stayed by the rally site, straining to hear.
“We’re being respectful to the women who put this together,” she said.
Freelancers Emily Cochrane and Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.