WASHINGTON — Dramatic protests erupted in US cities and across the globe Saturday as well over 1 million people — the overwhelming majority of them women — registered their strong dissent on the first full day of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.
An estimated 500,000 people swarmed the National Mall for the Women’s March on Washington as similar protests broke out in more than 600 places including Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Helsinki, Nairobi, and Singapore. Marchers sought to offer a counterpoint to the harsh nationalistic rhetoric that Trump used during the presidential campaign and is now promising to convert into national policies.
“We’re here to say we’re not going to roll over and play dead. We’re going to be visible,” said Vivian Fong of Takoma Park, Md., who was protesting in Washington. “I want to apologize to the world that somehow Americans have elected this braggadocio who knows nothing about policy. It’s mind-boggling that we’ve elected this man.”
It was an outpouring of energy, enthusiasm, and organization not seen in this country since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam-War marches of the 1960s. The chants from the Mall could be heard outside the West Wing of the White House on Saturday morning and were broadcast live on TV throughout the day.
The goal of the marchers: register opposition to Trump and his movement, which they felt had been built on insulting women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, disabled people, and other groups while tacitly accepting support from white nationalists.
Trump was not at the White House for much of the day and didn’t directly react to the marches. But during a speech at CIA headquarters he aimed exceptionally high in guessing at the number of people who’d attended his inauguration and accused the news media of undercutting the size of his crowds.
“It looked like a million, million and a half people,” Trump said of his Friday crowd. The Washington Post reported estimates that the crowd was closer to 250,000; there was no official estimate.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, likewise pointed to the lack of a reliable estimate and said heavy security on the Mall may have tamped down Friday’s crowd. He attacked the media for low-balling how many came to see Trump sworn in as president.
Trump couldn’t completely avoid the massive grass-roots rebuke to his leadership. His motorcade passed groups of protesters as he was driven around Washington. As he crossed one intersection, cars started honking loudly while some held up signs supporting women’s rights and Planned Parenthood.
The march in Washington was supposed to start at 1:15 p.m. But so many people came that the entire route was packed and demonstrators didn’t have room to physically walk from one place to another.
Instead it turned into a rally. Eventually, organizers rerouted the sea of people down a new path toward the White House, and many strode down Pennsylvania Avenue, the same route as Trump’s inauguration parade a day earlier. Protesters watched the spectacle from inaugural reviewing stands that remained in place.
The crowd was mostly female, but plenty of men showed up as well. Many sported the event’s signature pink caps. The mass of people included groups of friends, families with young children in strollers and carriers, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. While the crowd seemed to be predominantly white, there were other skin colors in the mix.
“They did make an effort to broaden the scope, the inclusiveness of it; that’s when I got behind it,” said Lee Rideout, who is African-American. She traveled from Los Angeles with a friend, and they met up in D.C. with her sister and cousins from Pittsburgh.
“Females are strong as hell,” read the handmade sign held aloft by one black man, Shannon Smith. The 30-year old D.C. resident wanted to stand in solidarity with women.
The story was similar in other cities. In Boston, an estimated 175,000 people came out and packed the Common, far more than the 80,000 expected. In Chicago, so many people spilled into the streets that the parade route was changed. In New York, crowds marched up Fifth Avenue to Trump Tower.
Smaller communities saw protests too, including Montpelier, Vt., where so many came out that traffic backed up onto Interstate 89. Foreign capitals including London, Berlin, Cape Town, Tokyo, Erbil, and Sydney saw demonstrations — and there were even images posted on Twitter of a tiny gathering on a ship in Antarctica, meaning the anti-Trump movement touched all seven continents.
The marches represented the loudest and largest protest so far from the political left, which has been swept from power in the federal government. They garnered far more enthusiasm than any of the campaign events held for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president who lost in November.
The gap in enthusiasm wasn’t lost on the speakers at the Washington rally before the march, many of them celebrities. “The old guard of the Democratic Party has got to go,” said filmmaker Michael Moore, speaking in Washington.
Clinton attended Trump’s inauguration on Friday and smiled as the new president led a round of applause for her at lunch. On Saturday she used her Twitter account to offer words of support for those taking to the streets.
“Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values,” Clinton wrote. She ended with the slogan from her losing campaign. “I truly believe we’re always Stronger Together,” she posted.
The Washington Monument was shrouded in fog and the weather was overcast, but it was an unseasonably warm winter day that greeted the hundreds of thousands gathered on the Mall.
“I feel disgusted that he won,” said Alicia Rodriguez, who traveled from Champaign, Ill., to participate in the Washington march. “He is an inhumane person, and to think that people voted for him made me compelled to come.”
She joined a march that included a mishmash of ages, genders, races, and causes: People carried signs in support of women’s reproductive rights, women of color, the environment, unions, and Obamacare. Others were more general — two women held aloft a giant banner of orange letters on chicken wire declaring “We are all in this together.”
Some were just plain anti-Trump: “I march so my son knows Trump’s a monster.”
Chants mocked Trump: “Hey, hey, ho, ho; predator-in-chief has got to go!” yelled one crowd. And another chant went like this: “Hands too small, can’t build a wall,” a reference to Trump’s desire to construct a barrier along the country’s southwestern border.
Celebrities and politicians made speeches at the gatherings across the country. “It took this horrific moment of darkness to get us to wake the [expletive] up,” Madonna said before performing her song “Express Yourself” in Washington.
Speaking in the Boston rally, Senator Elizabeth Warren said: “We will not be silent. We will not play dead. We will fight.”
In Atlanta, civil rights icon and Representative John Lewis — who drew a rebuke from Trump when Lewis said he was not a “legitimate president” — made references to organizing sit-ins and registering blacks to vote in the South.
“I know something about marching,” he said.
In Washington at around noon, John Kerry, freshly out of his post as secretary of state, stopped by the Mall with his dog. He was mobbed and a round of “Kerry! Kerry!” chants rippled through the crowd.
“I think it’s an extremely important statement . . . about not going backward and about people’s rights, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said in a brief interview.
March organizers initially had wanted the demonstration to be more focused on support for women and minorities and less about Trump. But many who came were openly disdainful of the new president.
“I wanted to be very clear that I’m anti-Trump,” said Molly Batchelder, an Oakland, Calif., native who attended the march with her mother.
Another protester compared Trump with the royalty taken down by the French Revolution.
“When you have billionaires running the government who have no idea what real people go through, that was the reason the French monarchy lost their heads,” said Karen Weinberg of Salem, N.Y.
Outside Union Station on Saturday morning, a steady stream of hundreds and hundreds of marchers headed toward the mall, passing under banners left up from the day before that had directed Trump inauguration ticketholders.
Vendors who were yesterday selling Trump paraphernalia were today selling pink and white “Women’s March” T-shirts.
Kevin Johnson did a brisk business selling $5 “Nasty Woman” buttons outside the station. “I’ve never seen so many women,” he marveled.