For his first 24 hours in office, President Donald Trump got a reception no other president before him has received. More than half a million protesters flooded the streets of Washington D.C. on Saturday – armed with pink beanies and mocking signs – a day after Trump’s inauguration reportedly brought about half that amount.
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The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington – the focal point of what turned out to be a bustling day of global protest – had initially expected 200,000 to attend the rally. The actual number of attendees, however, crushed their expectations, as at least one million people across the U.S. and around the world went to the streets to protest against Trump’s election and voice their support for women’s rights and minority rights.
"We are under attack, each and every one of us,” said actress and activist America Ferrera, who kicked off the event, as crowds were chanting “Yes We Can” and “dump Trump.”
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Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who followed Ferrera, gave a fiery speech in which she called on women to become activists. "Sometimes we have to put our bodies where our beliefs are,” she said, as she called the women in attendance to build a movement of resistance to Trump. “No more asking daddy,” she added, as the crowd chanted “leave us alone, leave us alone.”
As the event progressed, more and more celebrity speakers came on stage: Michael Moore (who began his speech by yelling, somewhat optimistically: “we got through day one”), Madonna, Scarlett Johansson and Ashely Judd. The crowd, however, quickly grew weary of the speakers and seemed more interested in the creative, colorful, derisive signs that were raised high above a sea of pink hats.
“Federal disasters: 2005 Katrina, 2017 Donald,” said one popular sign. Another said: “Fire Comey.” Others, some handmade and some printed, referred to Trump as "illegitimate." Many mocked him for his supposed ties to Russia, with some containing homoerotic images of the president and Vladimir Putin. Many more, however, referred to Trump’s comments about being able to grab women by the genitals without consent. “This pussy is watching,” said one sign, while others contained the slogan “Pussy grabs back,” under pictures and illustrations of pussycats. Many of the participants also chose to wear hats with cat ears, as a reference to that now-infamous tape. The vast majority of signs, however, called for recognition of women’s rights, particularly reproductive rights.
While women’s rights were at the forefront, other issues, particularly minorities’ rights and the rights of Muslim Americans, were prominent. The crowd, as well, was markedly diverse, ranging from toddlers to the elderly and including people from every gender and ethnic group. Many came with friends and family members. Some represented non-profits who fear defunding under Trump.
“We rely on government funding and grands in order to pay our employees, keep the lights on, feed our people. Without government funding, we are unable to stay open” said Zapora Nelson, who works for a shelter for victims of domestic abuse in Oklahoma that currently treats 75 women and children. Nelson is sure that Trump will cut her organization's funding and that of other similar nonprofits. “We’re almost getting ready for it now,” she said.
The repercussions of a divisive election campaign and a spike in hate crimes was widely felt throughout the crowd, as organizers, fearing violent backlash, instructed participants not give strangers their full name.
While anger was on the agenda and on the signage, confusion at the turn of events that led to the Trump’s presidency was still common. "I feel like we're all walking around in a daze, not fully understanding what happened and asking 'aren't you enraged’?” said Carol Weigend from North Carolina, who held up a Bernie Sanders sign. Other signs referenced Hillary Clinton, saying “I’m still with her.”
“I still can’t believe that the president is the president,” said Cherry Fullen from New Jersey, holding up a sign that listed Trump’s most outrageous comments – merely a selection, she emphasized, since there “so many issues: not enough sign space.” Fullen and her husband, Mike, were both reluctant Hillary Clinton supporters, “warts and all.” Nonetheless, they “are still recovering from the day after election day,” her husband said.
As the event wore on, though, anger quickly made an appearance – this time, however, it was directed at the organizers. As the number of participants far exceeded the initial expectations, the event was plagued by logistic concerns. Restrooms, in particular, were a major issue, as the number of available portable toilets was extremely limited. Enormous lines formed around the available port-a potties, Starbucks branches and even a local firehouse. Some participants ventured back to their hotels to use the bathroom, or looked for nearby abandoned buildings. Others peed in the middle of the crowd, encircled by friends who did their best to keep them from view. "It's a women's march - they should have thought of that!" grumbled one person.
Others were upset at the lack of action. Speeches carried on for over four hours, while participants became noticeably irate and began chanting "less talk, more walk.” At first, an AP report said that due to the density of the crowd the original plan, marching to the White House, had been canceled.
Eventually, however, the march did take place, albeit via a different route to the Ellipse south of the White House. Hundreds of thousands then marched through the streets, chanting “Donald Trump has got to go” and “we are the popular vote,” their voices echoing over the old Washington building.
While the event took place a day after more than 200 protesters were arrested in Washington, the Women's March was noticeably different: by the end of the day, people were taking selfies with police officers, instead of running away from them. AP reported that the march didn’t yield a single arrest.
At the end of the march, protesters gathered at the lawn in front of the south side of the White House, loudly jeering at the new president’s residence. Protesters, energized by the march, then began an impromptu dance party, leaving their signs, thousands of them, on fences erected on the lawn in front of the White House: messages to the new president that he is unlikely to ever see.