Depending on whom you ask, anywhere from five hundred thousand to one million people came to Washington, D.C., for the Women's March on Saturday. Several million more marchers descended on cities across the country, including seventeen thousand in Raleigh (see page 20). Thousands of those who took to D.C.'s streets Saturday traveled from North Carolina via bus, plane, car, or train. For many, it was a new experience.
"This is my first time ever," says Diane Moorefield, who took a bus to Washington from Durham early Saturday morning. "I'm fed up. I grew up in the sixties and thought this was all over with. But I guess not."
One of the five North Carolina organizers, Katherine Bellamy of Durham, signed up days after the election of Donald Trump, not realizing how big the event would become. "In the very early stages, there were maybe ten thousand people involved, and that's why I said I'd do it, because I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Bellamy says. "I'm hoping, and I think this is going to light a fire under a lot of people and build a lot of activists. It created me. I wasn't an activist, and now here I am."
Organizers chartered more than thirty buses, each containing about 50 riders; several of these buses left Durham at two thirty Saturday morning. Moorefield was on one of them, determined to speak out against the racism and misogyny she perceives from the new administration. "Every day you wake up and there's something new he's done," she says. "It's a continuing nightmare."
From morning to late afternoon, the city's streets were clogged and the D.C. Metro system was packed full, with marchers squeezing their way through train doors, lines winding out the station entrances, and women running up the down escalators to join the throngs patiently waiting to exit. The Metro recorded more than a million trips Saturday, the second-highest total in the system's history. (The busiest day was Barack Obama's first inauguration, in 2009.)
Many wore pink "pussy hats" and held signs denouncing the new president: "Keep Your Tiny Hands Off My Reproductive Rights." "There is no Planet B." "Trump Stinks Bigly."
In the lead-up to the march, the national organizers maintained that, despite the event's timing, it was not anti-Trump but rather pro-equal rights, with a focus on inclusivity and intersectional feminism.
"I'm not anti-Trump," Bellamy insists. "If he's the [president], I want him to succeed, but at the same time, if he's going to lead our country, I want him to lead the country with women in mind and make some changes that are long overdue."
The official line aside, several celebrity speakers bashed Trump to wild applause. Actress Ashley Judd, who once considered a U.S. Senate run in her native Kentucky, read a poem by a nineteen-year-old in Tennessee: "I'm not nasty like the combo of Trump and Pence being served up to me in my voting booth. I'm nasty like the battles my grandmothers fought to get me into that voting booth." Madonna littered her speech with Trump-directed F-bombs. "It took us this horrific moment of darkness to wake us the fuck up. ... Yes, I'm angry. Yes, I'm outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House, but I know that this won't change anything."
The next day, Trump mocked the Women's March on Twitter: "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly." Two hours later, he—or someone on his staff—was more reflective: "Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views."
Aside from the occasional Trump jeer, most of the march's speakers sounded positive notes, with perhaps the most resounding cheers elicited by six-year-old Sophie Cruz, the child of undocumented immigrants, who said, "We are here today making a chain of love to protect our families. Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed. I also want to tell the children not to be afraid, because we are not alone."
The Women's March wasn't perfectly choreographed. Owing to a surfeit of scheduled speakers, the rally portion of the event, which started shortly after ten a.m., ran nearly two hours over, and by two p.m.., many attendees were antsy, chanting, "Start the march!" And due to the sheer number of attendees—organizers expected two hundred thousand but got three times that—the march route was changed at the last minute, causing confusion. Many didn't hear the new marching orders, resulting in large groups splintering off and creating their own routes around the city, with many still marching by sunset.
Beyond the occasional hiccups, though, the march succeeded in making a powerful statement. More important, it also succeeded in forming a worldwide network of millions, soon to be deployed in a new campaign called "10 Actions for the First 100 Days." The first one: write a postcard to your senator about what matters most to you. (Printable postcards can be found at womensmarch.com/100.)
The North Carolina organizers say they're currently setting up events around the state to support the national effort. According to Bellamy, several marchers say they want to run for office—and the organizers intend to do everything they can to back them.
"We will be continuing this grassroots effort into a grassroots global organization where we can take this huge network that's been created and the values that it stands for and further it," says Emily Harris, another North Carolina organizer. "We want to continue making our presence known during this administration and moving forward. What's going to be important for women? What's going to be important for marginalized populations? I'm really excited to see what comes out of it. So yes, we are making plans."
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Resistance: Day 2 [Washington, D.C.]."