Demonstrators flooded into Washington on Saturday to express opposition to President Donald Trump in numbers exceeding the crowd that turned out for his inauguration, cheering for unity but also vowing to press elected Democrats on progressive causes.
Crowds for the Women’s March on Washington, as the rally is known, stretched more than 14 blocks down Independence Avenue near the National Mall by midday Saturday—a turnout so large that some pockets of attendees began marching in place. Originally intended to stop at the Washington Monument, organizers urged the crowd to head to the Ellipse in front of the White House.
Protesters also marched in cities across the U.S. and abroad, including Chicago, London, and Los Angeles. Marchers in New York went past Trump Tower.
Ridership on D.C.’s metropolitan area transit reached 275,000 as of 11 a.m. Saturday, according to Washington’s WMATA agency, compared with 193,000 rides as of 11 a.m. on Friday and 513,000 at the same time on former President Barack Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Day.
Linda Keller, 41, from Chicago, wielded a sign quoting her 9-year-old daughter, Nora, as she marched amid the sea of men and women. “Mommy,” it read, “what does it mean to build a wall?”
Keller lamented the fact that she’d had to explain to her fourth-grade daughter that the new president wants to barricade the southern U.S. border to keep immigrants out. “I did not know what to say to her,” she explained, recalling the encounter. “I was fumbling for words because I didn’t want her to feel completely insecure. She’s only 9 years old. But she knows I’m here today and she knows I’m here to fight for her and all Americans, whether you’re black, white, Latino, Muslim, gay.”
Despite a pre-march controversy over organizers’ decision to exclude Hillary Clinton from the event’s official honorees, her presence was acknowledged and celebrated by multiple attendees and speakers who supported her presidential bid. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem name-checked both Clinton and Bernie Sanders—whose female supporters Steinem apologized for criticizing during his bitter 2016 Democratic primary battle with Clinton—in her remarks, while pro-Clinton actress and immigrant-rights activist America Ferrera was among the march’s first speakers.
Apparel and signs praising Clinton were visible among the hordes of marchers, but less so than those supporting liberal priorities such as abortion rights, voting rights, environmental protection, and Black Lives Matter. Most common of all by midday were anti-Trump signs, including many savaging his friendliness towards Vladimir Putin and his 2005 remarks that he can grab women “by the pussy” because of his fame.
Indeed, although organizers and early materials downplayed the march’s status as a rebuke of Trump, its slaps at the combative new president were often personal. Steinem portrayed Trump as untrustworthy at best and mentally ill at worst, telling attendees that the president’s “Twitter finger cannot become a trigger finger.”
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who initially backed Sanders in the primary and drew widespread attention with his pre-election prediction of Trump’s victory, suggested that the new president would serve “let’s just say, months” rather than four years in office.
Krista Suh, 29, traveled to the march from Los Angeles after campaigning in the swing state of Ohio for Clinton. But she said she would have joined the march “no matter what” happened on Election Day. “I think I would want to be here if Hillary Clinton was sworn in,” Suh said while handing out free pink hats with cat ears to marchers—a ubiquitous item on the Mall, intended as a dig at Trump over his claims, caught on a video released in October, to have grabbed women by the genitals.
Suh said, “to have someone male who was so unqualified in office” after beating the experienced Clinton “further spurred me to action.”
Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally who took pictures with attendees and vowed to protect women’s rights in his state, was one of several elected officials in attendance. Among congressional Democrats joining the marchers were Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, and Michigan Rep. Sander Levin.
Charlie Brotman, a beloved 60-veteran announcer of inaugural parades whom Trump did not ask to work on Friday, made an early appearance at the pre-march microphones and drew loud cheers. Brotman told demonstrators that their turnout was “much larger” than that for Trump’s parade, adding that he is “tickled to have a new job.”
In the hours before Trump’s inauguration, the push to formally recognize Clinton on the march’s list of honorees sparked a kerfluffle that turned #AddHerName into a trending Twitter topic. Some Clinton backers aired frustrations on social media that event organizers were motivated to exclude her because of their support for Sanders, threatening to turn the march into yet another venue for airing the Clinton-Sanders dispute, which continues to fracture Democrats.
“Thousands of March participants organized and have been inspired to fight back, some for the first time in their lives because of her historic presidential campaign,” Clinton supporters noted in a Change.org petition asking march organizers to formally recognize her. On Saturday morning, Clinton tweeted: “Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values.”
But little primary-season acrimony was visible, even far on the sidelines of Saturday’s event.
Protesters from Florida gathered before the march for a breakfast on the sixth floor of the Library of Congress’ Madison Building, hosted by Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation. The breakfast was full—dozens of people waited in line outside because the event was at capacity—and mostly women. Many wore the pink cat-ear hats; others wore t-shirts and buttons showcasing Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the former chair of the Democratic National Committee, took the podium and urged the protesters to resist the incoming administration, which she described as a threat to women’s rights.
Leading the crowd in chants of “We will not go back,” she cheered policies favored by Democrats, like the right to abortion and Barack Obama’s health care law, and then addressed Trump, describing his comments about women as “out of bounds.”
Most women at the Florida breakfast were there with the clear goal of opposing the president. Natalia Armstrong, 58, flew to Washington from Naples to attend, and she said she came to speak out against Trump policies that affect women, but also against the way he has spoken publicly about black people and his rhetoric about closing the country off from the world. A Clinton supporter, she was wearing a “Nasty women vote” button with the campaign’s signature “H.”
Another Clinton voter, Finis Troupe, 60, came in from Michigan and said she made the trip for her granddaughters. “I just had to speak for them,” she said. On Trump, she added: “I don’t think he cares about women.”
Nolan McCaskill contributed reporting.
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