WASHINGTON — More than half a million marchers swarmed the National Mall on Saturday for the Women’s March on Washington, a hopeful, energetic act of resistance to Republican President Donald Trump.
The number of D.C. marchers surpassed Trump’s inaugural crowd on Friday, according to general tallies released from the D.C. Metro System. In addition to the capital march, hundreds of thousands of protesters walked in solidarity in dozens of cities across the country, from Boise to Boston, Minneapolis to Montpelier, and across the globe.
Saturday’s collective action represented an unprecedented challenge to a newly elected president. Previous presidents, including Richard Nixon, faced protests when sworn in but not of this scale and breadth.
In remarks in D.C., feminist icon Gloria Steinem urged those gathered to keep up the pressure on Trump through a sustained opposition movement that could also constrain the Republican-controlled Congress.
“Make sure you introduce yourselves to each other and decide what we’re going to do tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, and we’re never turning back,” Steinem said.
The thousands of protesters Saturday marched on ground trodden down the day before by Trump supporters, who showed up in force Friday to celebrate the inauguration of the business mogul and reality television star. The theme of Friday in Washington was “Make America Great Again” — hundreds of Trump’s signature red baseball caps dotted the Mall as he promised to “bring back our dreams.”
While various political messages were promoted on Saturday, the Women’s March was conceptualized as a protest against Trump’s policies toward women, including crude comments he made during the campaign, and insults hurled at prominent women of all backgrounds, from actress Meryl Streep to reporter Megyn Kelly.
Trump’s misogynist views toward women were crystallized in a video during a 2005 “Access Hollywood” taping where he said his celebrity status entitled him to grope women.
In response, many of the marchers wore pink knitted hats with cat-shaped ears, which they called “pussy hats,” providing a sharp contrast to the “Make America Great Again” baseball caps that dominated on Friday.
Homemade signs were plentiful at the march, playfully jabbing at Trump on everything from his signature bleached-blond hair (“We Shall Over Comb”) to his temperament (“Super Callous Fascist Racist Extra Braggadocious”).
Among the hordes of D.C. marchers on Saturday were hundreds of Vermonters who traveled by air, land and rail in their pilgrimages to the national’s capital.
The Vermont marchers’ anxieties around Trump spanned a number of issues, from potential Medicare cuts to environmental deregulation.
Hyde Park resident Christine Hallquist is the CEO of the Vermont Electric Cooperative and recently decided to change gender expression from male to female. Hallquist said she was worried the federal government would now begin enacting discriminatory policies toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Trump is a minor problem,” Hallquist said. “The larger problem is the underbelly of hatred and cynicism that we have in our country. If we get rid of Trump, we get (Vice President) Mike Pence, who wrote some of the most hateful legislation in the country for the LGBT community.”
While Hallquist said she was blessed to receive support from Vermonters during her transition, she pointed out that federal statutes can trump any state protections.
“We can’t fall back and feel like we are insulated in Vermont,” she said. “The laws they are proposing override state laws. We shouldn’t be comfortable.”
(Shortly after Hallquist expressed her fears, Trump announced that John Gore, the lawyer who defended North Carolina’s discriminatory transgender bathroom bill, would be leading the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.)
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., hosted Vermonters from all corners of the state for coffee and snacks early Saturday morning at a private home across from the Supreme Court.
Leahy spoke of the difficult times many were experiencing following Trump’s November victory and said it reminded him of the frequent encouragement his Italian grandmother gave him when he was dejected as a child.
“Coraggio, coraggio — courage, courage,” Leahy said, recollecting his grandmother’s advice. “And now I say the same, coraggio!”
Leahy’s wife, Marcelle, said she felt frustrated that Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the presidency despite receiving nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.
“It’s very discouraging, very disappointing,” she said. “But I’m already thinking of two years from now, when we have the elections again, and one-third of the Senate will be up. We can be discouraged for a few minutes, but we have got to get up and pull ourselves together and look to the future. It’s going to be a struggle, but we can’t give up.”
Many of the Vermont protesters said they were scared for the world Trump would shape for their children and grandchildren.
“I can’t imagine going back 50 years, or even 100 years, and what my two kids will have to go through,” said Cheryl Gasperetti, of Mount Tabor. “The environment, a woman’s right to choose, so many other issues. I want more for my children than I have right now.”
Natalie Guillette, a visual arts teacher at North Country Union High School in Newport, said many of her students were frightened after the election.
“My classroom was like a funeral the day after the election — I was swollen from crying and wore all black, as did many of my students,” Guillette said. “Normally we don’t talk about politics in class, but we did, and we all cried together.”
“Unfortunately we’ve had to kick out some Trump supporters from my room,” Guillette added. “One kid said, ‘I have a straw here, so you can all suck it up.’”
Aimee Alexander of Derby spoke passionately against Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy Devos. Devos has no experience in public education. During her confirmation hearing last week, she showed virtually no knowledge of basic federal education standards, including the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees public schooling for disabled students.
“I really don’t like Betsy Devos. I don’t like Trump, in general, but I really don’t like her,” Alexander said, tears in her eyes. “I have a disabled child, so keeping public schools open are really important to me. I don’t like anything she stands for her.”
Vermont Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, packed her three daughters in her car after her legislative work on Friday and drove straight to D.C. She said she felt despair and anger after the election, but that those darker feelings had given way to an oppositional energy.
“For my kids and for the future I want to make sure that we aren’t going backwards,” she said. “And in order to ensure that we really need to stand in opposition to Trump as president.”
Copeland Hanzas said she is embarking on a project in the Legislature to create rapid response teams in different policy areas that can help the state quickly react if major changes occur in federal policy.
We want the best folks around the table for the worst-case scenarios,” she said. “The changes could come tomorrow, or in August when we are out of session. So we need to be prepared.”
A number of the younger Vermonters at the march also expressed anxiety about the future, but they said the strength in numbers at the march had given them hope.
Sienna, a 17-year-old, was one of 130 students from the Putney School who journeyed to protest.
“I’m scared,” she said. “But I’m going to be an ally now until I can vote and have real political power.”
University of Vermont senior Jessie Gustafson said that she never thought Trump would win, a likely assumption formed in her Democratically dominated state.
“Vermont is a bit of a liberal bubble,” she said. “I hope we all know that racism and sexism and xenophobia are alive and really strong in this country. It was hard, living in Burlington, to fully grasp that it was a possibility Trump would be elected. But now that he’s won, we need to act. So here we are.”