WASHINGTON – The crowds here were so big that most people could barely budge, let alone march.
Women by the hundreds of thousands, many clad in pink hats and scarves and hoisting handmade signs, thronged the National Mall in protest against President Donald Trump.
The capital was the focal point of the day of demonstrations, but similar scenes played out across the country. In Chicago, more than 150,000 jammed streets around Grant Park, a pedestrian gridlock that, like in Washington, also made an actual march impossible. The throng in New York City was estimated at 400,000 and blanketed Fifth Avenue for hours. In Los Angeles, an estimated 500,000 protesters marched toward city hall.
Boston, Denver, Miami, St. Louis, St. Paul and many other U.S. cities saw their own dramatic turnouts. Across the globe, there were more than 70 marches, including in London, Paris, Barcelona and Melbourne.
The protesters came with warnings to the new administration in its first full day in power, that they will fight for women’s rights, protect minorities and battle efforts by Trump and the Republican Congress to undo much of the Obama administration’s achievements.
The crowds in Washington were energized, chanting, “We are not afraid of Donald Trump!” and “We are here! We are on fire!” pumping fists in the air as more than two dozen celebrities, singers and poets took to the stage.
Among them was pioneering feminist Gloria Steinem. “We are the people. We have people power and we will use it, all the power that you try to eliminate,” she told the crowd. “This is the upside of the downside. This is an outpouring of energy and true democracy like I have never seen in my long life.”
In all, there were more than 600 marches and rallies around the world. Together they drew an estimated 3 million protesters. It was the largest display of anger following a presidential inauguration in the country’s history, reflecting a divisive campaign, a new president with historically low approval ratings and the promise of continued dissent as Trump’s first days in office play out.
Speakers in Washington sharply rebuked the new president, calling his vision for the country dark and paranoid. Calls went up for the demonstrators to rally around numerous issues: Women’s rights, access to health care and good public schools, protections for immigrants and LGBTQ people, and the need to respond to climate change.
“We march with a message for our new Congress and our new president — we are united and we will not be moved,” said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “We march for women’s rights. We march for human rights. We are ready for the fight.”
The huge numbers and poor acoustics meant many Washington marchers couldn’t hear the speeches. What’s more, cell service was spotty, making it hard for people to communicate, and bathroom lines were massive.
But the inconveniences didn’t dim the crowd’s enthusiasm, with many people cheering and clapping as the hordes moved onto the National Mall. The throng stretched from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, about two miles.
Trump attended the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in another part of the capital for part of the day, but returned to the White House while the demonstration was underway.
In the crowd was Megan Peterson of St. Paul, who had initially bought plane tickets in the expectation of attending an inauguration for Hillary Clinton. “It’s been very inspirational and heartening to see the huge crowds,” she said. “I wanted to be part of showing people that we really are the majority. The values that the whole march represents is really more the spirit and values of the country. More than what we hear from Trump.”
Diane Friebe, who flew in from Two Harbors, said she was there to stand with “Muslims and immigrants.”
“So many things have been said about so many groups that someone needs to say no,” said Friebe, 64. “I was horrified that a presidential candidate would speak so badly of so many people.”
More than half a million people descended on the D.C. march by day’s end, significantly eclipsing the crowds that went to the Mall for the inauguration festivities the previous day. Metro ridership was higher on Saturday and aerial views of both events showed denser crowds on Saturday.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar greeted Minnesotans before Saturday’s march. She talked about the need to elect more women and praised their decision to come to the nation’s capital to protest.
“It may have been a bit of a long drive, but you’ll be a lot warmer today than our sisters in Minnesota,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “Thank you for standing up for what we believe in.”
The signs demonstrators waved were part of the story. Homemade, they carried messages of hope, humor and ire: “Dissent is Patriotic,” “America, we are better than this,” and “These eggs won’t go over easy.” One infant was wearing a shirt that read, “If I wanted a baby for president, I would have nominated myself.” More than a few hijacked vulgar terms that Trump himself has been recorded using in reference to women.
Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican and a Trump supporter who celebrated the inauguration with his family a day earlier, said he respected everyone’s right to assemble. He hoped the crowd would give Trump a chance now that he’s in office.
“I hope they will give this administration an opportunity to perhaps prove them wrong,” Emmer said. “I respect them for what they’re doing and I think at the end of the day, we ultimately want the same things.”
Star Tribune staff writer Sharyn Jackson and wire services contributed to this report.