WASHINGTON (CN) — More than a million people filled the streets of hundreds of U.S. cities Saturday, protesting a new administration they fear will roll back civil rights. Half a million marched on the White House; 120,000 protested in the Bay Area; 60,000 in Atlanta; 50,000 in Austin, Texas, and in New Orleans, a jazz funeral procession mourned the death of democracy, with an effigy of an orange-faced President Donald Trump in a coffin.
Organizers in Washington, D.C., who’d anticipated 200,000 participants for the Women’s March on Washington, estimated that half a million came for the peaceful event — more than had come for the Friday inauguration.
Anxiety seemed to predominate in the crowd, still feeling the deep divisions in a polarized country. Many criticized what they called Trump’s disparaging, sexist behavior and volatile temperament.
Countless signs referred to “pussy,” referring to the audiotape released during the campaign in which Trumped bragged about grabbing women by their genitals.
“We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” the crowd chanted. “No hate, no fear – immigrants are welcome here. “
Other chants included: “Lock him up,” and “Love trumps hate.”
Mary Helen Harris, 75, held a sign: “Been marching since 1963.” Her husband, Bob Harris, whom she married that year, held a sign: “Build bridges not walls.”
“We’re concerned about the country,” Mary Harris said. “We don’t know what’s next. I fear for my children and my grandchildren.”
Bob Harris said his wife’s mother was attending a finishing school in Germany when Hitler came to power.
“She said the teachers were all against Hitler and knew it was going to be trouble, but had no idea the extent the trouble would be,” Mary said, recalling her mother’s words.
Bob Harris, 75, said he’d never seen such misogyny and coarse rhetoric in America before Trump’s campaign.
“Reagan made me nervous when he was elected,” Bob Harris said. “But at least he had class and genuinely respected people, and was a genuinely likeable person and didn’t denigrate people like Trump.”
Tara Pasricha, a young Capitol Area woman, said she’s cried a lot since Election Day.
“I’m very scared for all minorities, women, people of color, our climate, people’s livelihoods and health,” Pasricha said. “If you don’t believe in facts and you don’t believe in science, then what progress can you make, really?”
She held a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton as the march made its way from the National Mall along 14th Street.
The diversity of signs reflected the diversity of the marchers, many of whom were men. The placards spoke of immigrant rights, health care, women’s reproductive rights, and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Polly, 34, who declined to give her last name, hoisted a sign with the names of 17 women of color who have been victims of police violence.
“As a woman of color myself, I do have a voice for me to stand up and represent and let it be known that they’re still human,” Polly said. She is from Jersey City. “I’ll be their voice and I’ll say their names until something is done about it.”
Protests were held in about 600 cities around the country. Polly said the nationwide movement was spurred by fear but also by hope.
The Women’s March on Washington, sparked by a Hawaii retiree’s Facebook post, triggered an international response, from Washington D.C. to Tucson to Juneau and all the way to Melbourne, Australia.
“I’m just so happy to see so many people, not just people of color, wearing Black Lives Matter signs,” Polly said. “We just want to be heard. And it’s not because we don’t think that nobody else matters. It’s just because there’s a big problem that nobody else is talking about.
“But being here and seeing these people – this march, the women, the men supporting them – makes me confident that we are onto something good. I feel hopeful. Scared, but very hopeful – the whole crowd and the women give me hope.”
As the march wound onto Constitution Avenue, two women from first-generation African-American families, Sade Adeyanju, 22, and Nora Essono, 23, expressed concern about family separation and immigration policy under the Trump Administration. Both urged the new president to meet not just with black celebrities like Kanye West and Steve Harvey, but with the Congressional Black Caucus, and the immigrant and black communities themselves.
A few Trump supporters stumbled upon the march as they made their way toward the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Keith Bennett of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who opposed President Barack Obama and protested against him, said he supported the march, so long as it remained peaceful.
“There’s nothing wrong with this. This is great. This is what America’s about. You’ve got a right to voice your opinion,” Bennett said. “At some point in time we’ve all got to sit down and find a middle ground and work things out.”
His 18-year-old niece, Miranda Atwood, of Ashburn, Va., was not so enthusiastic. She called the Saturday marchers “full of hate.”
“Yesterday people were so excited. We actually had hope in this country. Everyone was just here to support.” She said people in the Saturday march were “rude,” and one blew smoke in her face.
“God’s gonna take care of them,” she said. “Jesus is gonna be up there looking down on us and being like, ‘Gotta fix this.’ That’s why He picked Trump.”
Still, her uncle expressed hope that his niece and his 20-year-old son, who accompanied them, can sit down with other Americans and find some middle ground.
“We’re Americans; we always work things out in the end,” Bennett said. “Really, if we break apart, there is no more America. Then all of this will go away.”
Bennett said President Trump deserves a chance, at least a year to see what he does, though he should be held accountable.
“I voted for him, but we’ve got to make sure he follows through on everything he does, that he does treat everybody equally and fairly,” Bennett said. “It’s got to be done that way.” If Trump does roll back rights, he added, Congress and American citizens would need to get together to rein him in.
As the march made its way toward the White House, veering from the planned route, a young George Washington University student hoisted a Bernie Sanders portrait in the air. Salma, who declined to give her last name, has a medical condition whose medication costs about $2,000 a month, some of it underwritten by the Affordable Care Act.
She wants Trump to feel some heat from the marches. “I’m hoping people will hear our voices and will make changes,” she said. “Or at least he’ll feel some pressure.”
Salma is a dual French-American citizen. Her grandfather, who still lives in France, has told her about the days the Nazis came to power. It didn’t happen overnight. People started disappearing quietly, he told her.
“I’m scared of that,” she said.
She mentioned the sudden spike in anti-Semitic threats in the United States since Trump was elected.
“That’s really scary, because I don’t think people in this country realize how fast and how quietly it happens,” Salma said. “And it starts with that.”
That’s why she put the symbol for “La Resistance” on the back of her Bernie Sanders sign.
“This was the symbol of free France under Nazi occupation,” she said. Her uncle fought in the French resistance against the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime’s collaboration.
“I think this is the new resistance,” she said.
Meanwhile in Austin, an estimated 50,000 people marched to the Texas Capitol, bearing signs such as “Don’t Mess with Texas Women,” and “Y’all Means All.”
Though many demonstrators carried messages directed specifically at the new president — a piñata in Trump’s likeness, for example — speakers, including Congressman Lloyd Doggett and former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, focused on what could be done at the state level to protect the rights of women, immigrants, people of color and potential targets of the new administration.
Doggett defended the rights of transgender people and denounced a Texas “bathroom bill,” one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities this year.
“When we told [legislators] we wanted them out of our bedrooms, they thought we wanted them in our bathrooms,” Doggett said.
Davis, wearing the pink tennis shoes that kept her standing during her 11-hour filibuster in the Texas Senate in 2013, called it a “tipping point” in Texas, “where things have been awfully hard for an awfully long time.”
She blasted the Legislature for its “systematic” defunding of public education and women’s health care. A federal judge last week stopped Texas from zeroing out $4 million in annual Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood’s Texas clinics.
Davis said that Texas Legislature “professes to care about life, but ignores the living, turning a callous heart to children in this state through underfunded child welfare programs and a callous disregard to a maternal death rate that has doubled since women’s health funding was cut in 2011.”
She told the lively crowd that while they might be demoralized by what Texas has done, it is time to “rise up.”
“You cannot be at home with something that you think is wrong. You cannot remain silent,” Davis said, quoting Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon attacked by Trump in the days before the inauguration.
Trump called Lewis, one of the last surviving members of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s core group, of being “all talk, talk, talk, no action or results,” though Lewis got his skull crushed by a police baton in marching with King in Selma, Alabama.
Lewis represents a vibrant congressional district in Atlanta, home to Emory University and the National Institutes of Health, though Trump described it as “is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime infested.”
Lewis spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of 60,000 in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. He thanked them for “standing up, for speaking up, for getting in the way, for getting in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Meanwhile in Austin, Amina Amdeen, a young Muslim woman who made Texas headlines in November by shielding a Trump supporter when a progressive protest turned violent, gave an impassioned appeal for unity. Amdeen, a University of Texas student who immigrated to America from Iraq when she was 10, referred to the man she protected as “Joe.”
“Do what I have done,” Amdeen said. “Find the Joe of your neighborhood, your workplace, your church, and induce the dialogue we so desperately need.”
As the crowd got organized on Saturday in New Orleans, a line of brass instruments and dancers with umbrellas wove their way through the protest: a traditional jazz funeral procession mourning the death of democracy, with an effigy of an orange-faced Trump in a coffin.
An estimated crowd of 10,000 to 15,000, including some state lawmakers, marched from Washington Square Park in the Marigny neighborhood to City Hall on the far end of the Central Business District.
The New Orleans protest was organized by two groups, Millennial March and New Orleans Women’s March.
Across the country in the Bay Area cities, more than 120,000 protesters marched, according to estimates by Fox News — a source not likely to overestimate the crowds. Fox estimated that 60,000 marched in Oakland, 33,000 in San Francisco and another 25,000 in San Jose.
As the crowd wound through downtown Oakland it became so thickly crowded at times that the people were marching in place.
Oakland police estimated the crowd had swollen to more than 60,000 by mid-afternoon after protesters converged in Frank Ogawa Plaza across from City Hall. Protesters had been out in force since early morning and did not begin to disperse until around 3 p.m.
Many women wore “pussy” hats — pink beanies with kitten ears, to protest Trump’s bragging about molesting women. Many brought their daughters to educate them and protest what they see as a coming assault on women.
Young girls chanted anti-Trump slogans and waved signs: “Girls just wanna have FUN-damental RIGHTS.”
“It’s not like it was a question, or I needed to ask myself why I was going,” said Janessa, 27, an Oakland resident cradling a baby girl as she stopped to rest in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
Janessa said “it just seemed natural” to march after Trump’s divisive campaign and insults to women. She hoped the protests around the nation might have an impact on how the Trump administration treats women.
Protesters, including many men, were peaceful and even jubilant, dancing to percussion bands and taking family photos by Lake Merritt. Many expressed apprehension about what Trump’s presidency would mean for their children.
“We’re scared for our daughter, so we came out,” said Myra, 37, who lives in nearby Berkeley. “She thinks she’s going to get hurt. We wanted to give her a little hope.”
But one Californian asked: “Where was everyone before the election? Why didn’t they march then? Or better yet, why didn’t they vote for Hillary?”
Six cities in Indiana hosted protests, the largest one in Indianapolis, where an estimated 7,500 Hoosiers marched to the Statehouse to hear more than two hours of speeches by more than a dozen speakers.
There, the event began with the crowd singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and concluded with message, “God bless the Hoosier State.” An ASL interpreter was on hand for the deaf.
As the speakers and members of the crowd worried about the prospects for racial and religious minorities and women, most preached a message of unity as well as opposition to the new president.
“We came here with one resolve, to say we are not going back,” said Rabbi Sandy Sasso, of Indianapolis.
“What got us here today is love,” said the Rev. Suzanna Wille, from All-Saints Episcopal Church in Indianapolis. “If you are white, I hope you are here for love of those who are black. If you speak Spanish, I hope you are here for love of those of us who speak English. If you are straight, I hope you love those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer. If you were born here, be here to love immigrants, people of all faiths, stand here because you love those of no faith and of a faith other than your own.”
Organizer Terri Siler said, “I never expected this turnout. When I started this I thought I’d be lucky to get 1,000 people.”
State Rep. Carey Hamilton, from Indianapolis’ North Side, told the crowd: “Friends, we all realize we are waking up, we realize we have work to do. Only a strong democracy can deliver the more equal and more just society we all desire.”
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, more than 25 organizations, local and national, helped coordinate the rally, including Physicians for a National Health Program, Planned Parent Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, Indiana Beyond Coal, the United Automobile Workers, the YWCA, and the Center for Nonviolence.
Sarah Hyndman, an event organizer, said the rally was about more than election results.
“The election results caused concern, but this rally is about us and what we can do,” Hyndman said. “That’s why we call the rally ‘Our Promise.’ This is not a protest, but rather a promise to get involved.”
About, 1,000 attended in Fort Wayne. There, Fort Wayne, Phyllis Bush, with the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, spoke of her disappointment in the nomination of public school enemy Betsy DeVos for secretary of education.
DeVos, of Michigan, has suggested eliminating the public school system in Detroit, and turning everything over — including all state and federal education money — to private corporations.
“We want to bring awareness to the plight of public education and get more parents, taxpayers, citizens and anyone with a pulse aware that the future of public education is in danger, particularly with this nominee,” Bush said. “DeVos is unqualified, has no background in education, and her main qualification is that she was a big donor.”
Palermo Galindo, president of the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, was worried about Trump’s divisive rhetoric and his policies on race and immigration.
“Immigrants make significant contributions to our society,” Galindo said. “In 2010 there were 12,000 new Latino business owners in Indiana. We need to carry the promise to them and let them know ‘Sí, se puede:’ Yes, we can.”
In her speech, Amanda Meier, United Auto Workers Community Action Program chairwoman for Greater Allen County, told the crowd that that decent wages for workers and social justice are intrinsically linked and must be respected.
“Unions set the standards for wages and we all gain from collective bargaining, but organized labor also focuses on social justice, not just workplace issues,” Meyer said. “We marched alongside Dr. King through the years and we’ve continued to stand on the side of justice, including supporting LGBT and immigrant rights. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we must never forget that we can create change.”
Farah Combs, an Arabic lecturer at Indiana University/Purdue University–Fort Wayne, spoke of living through a political campaign as an Arab woman and a Muslim in a climate that was friendly to neither.
“I’m an Arab woman, a Muslim and an American. The United States provided me with a college education, an opportunity that no other country would give me,” Combs said. “To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, ‘Those who deny freedom don’t deserve it.’ I love this country as much as Trump does.”
Kelly Convery, a neonatal lactation consultant at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, joined thousands protesting in Philadelphia.
“I marched for my patients and the very real threat to women’s health care,” said Convery. “I marched for my nephews and their future.”
She had a message for Trump, who directed the White House spokesman during the protest to give a statement that misstated turnout at the inauguration. “Mr. President, you can cushion yourself with lies about crowd size, protect your fragile ego with rants about the fake media, insulate your supporters even further with the propaganda of Fox News – but we are STILL here,” Convery said. “We are watching. We’re the majority. And you’re in for one hell of a fight.”
Courthouse News reporters Britain Eakin reported from Washington, D.C.; Kelsey Jukam from Austin, Texas; Helen Christophi from Oakland, California; Sabrina Canfield and Giuseppe Catania from New Orleans; David Wells from Indianapolis; Chris Randolph from Fort Wayne, Indiana; Kayla Goggin from Atlanta; Dionne Cordell-Whitney from Minneapolis-St. Paul; and Lana Morelli from Philadelphia. The story was edited by CNS staff in New England.