Reporter's Notebook: Protesters Have Their Day at D.C. Women's March

Getty
Gloria Steinem and protesters at the Women's March on Washington in D.C. on Jan. 21

Yes, there were lots of signs, but also some euphoria at seeing kindred spirits after a dark day.

As the bustle from the many inauguration parties faded on Saturday morning, the sea of stark red “Make America Great Again" hats in the streets of the nation’s capital turned into knitted pink “Pussyhat Project” beanies.

Throngs of protesters walked in the direction of Independence Avenue and 3rd Street, where the Women's March on Washington stage and speakers were set up. This was a far younger and more diverse crowd gathering Saturday than what I saw at Trump's big Lincoln Memorial kickoff concert on Thursday or on the Mall for the presidential swearing-in ceremony on Friday.

Maybe the Trump folks were getting a nice brunch after a late night — or just letting the opposition ("The Resistance") have their day — but there seemed to be few interested enough to tag along to see what the protesters were up to in the early-going hours.

Unlike the heavily barricaded checkpoints leading to the National Mall on Inauguration Day, there was now more room for movement. Visitors with freshly written signs hurried to make it to where the action was. (“Lena, I’m coming,” joked one woman as she walked toward the commotion.)

Sign Watch, Part I: “Babes Against Bullshit” (pictured), “Future Is Feminist,” “The Future Is Nasty,” “America Is Not a Reality Show,” “Do We Have to Do This Over Again,” "2018 Is Coming."

As the crowds of people I was walking with rounded the corner of Independence Avenue and 14th Street, organizers in yellow vests flagged us: “Room in the street.” So the crowds poured out of the close line and kept walking to get as near to Independence and 3rd as possible.

Shortly thereafter, America Ferrera’s voice sharply comes through the loudspeakers: "Together, we will fight." I'm walking toward a distant big screen and hear more of the call to arms.

"Marchers, make no mistake: We are, every single one of us, under attack," says Ferrera. "Our safety and freedoms are on the chopping block, and we are the only ones who can protect one another. If we do not stand together, march together, fight together for the next four years — then we will lose together."

There was a joyful mood pervasive in the street, maybe some euphoria at seeing kindred spirits after a dark day. Breaking the mood: The crowd I was walking in ran straight toward a group holding fire-and-brimstone-style “Repent” signs. Even though those sign holders were vastly outnumbered, the Jesus posters were at least double the size of most protesters' signs and impossible to miss.

Sign Watch, Part II: "Nope" (pictured), "GOP Busters," "Yuge Mistake," "Zero Tolerance for Meanness," "We Will Make Racists Afraid Again," "Grab ‘Em by the Emoluments Clause."

On the loudspeaker, an organizer now says, to cheers, that there are 500,000 people gathered for the Women’s March on Washington. The attendance estimate for Inauguration Day is unclear (although it’s plainly clear from side-to-side photos that Trump’s big day was far less attended than Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, when 1.8 million are said to have gathered).

The crowds walked on Independence until you could walk no farther, at which point there was no room to move, only to observe the signs and wait until you heard a voice crackle on the loudspeaker that was recognizable. If restricted movement is any measure of crowd size, I found it more difficult to get around on this street than at the Trump concert or watching the swearing-in on the Mall.

Unlike Friday, when a “Make America Great Again”-hatted man gleefully walked past the Environmental Protection Agency building looking forward to Trump lopping off its “tentacles,” today there were messages written like “The EPA Saves Lives.” In a nearby tree, I see two people balancing on bare branches with "Queer Lives Matter" and "Intersectional Feminism" messages.

More than an hour went by, and I hadn’t seen a "MAGA" hat. I thought maybe I'd make it through the protest without seeing one, but did eventually spot more than a few. This probably goes without saying, but the ubiquitous vendors selling Trump merchandise on Friday were nowhere to be seen. No $20 Trump flags or $10 shirts today. In their place was at least one vendor selling “Farewell Obama” shirts.

Sign Watch, Russia edition: “Resist the Manchurinating Candidate" (pictured), "Our Moscow Mule" (pictured), “Who’s the Puppet ☭?” “Advice From a Ukrainian, Don’t Trust Putin.”

The speakers went by at a brisk clip. There were a mix of current celebs (Ferrera, Ashley Judd), icons (Gloria Steinem) and organizers from the Women’s March, NAACP and the like. The narrative throughout was resistance, yes, but also that protesters would not deny their identities — sexual, racial or otherwise — in the face of an ominous administration that could try to deny rights.

When Michael Moore’s voice crackles over the loudspeakers, a big cheer erupts. He references the alternate-history-looking-but-very-real print cover of the Washington Post this morning (“Trump takes power”) and frames it as a rallying cry for the resistance.

“The new President vows to end the ‘carnage,’” exclaims Moore. “We are here to end the Trump carnage.” The documentary filmmaker also says that he's going to try to not make these remarks a typical demonstration speech and gives an impassioned delivery.

Sign Watch, Hollywood edition: "A Woman's Place Is in the Resistance" (pictured), "What Meryl Said" (pictured), "Mr. Trump, I Baked You a Pie for Your Inauguration Party!" (pictured).

Now a “Nasty, Nasty” chant faintly breaks out, a verbal embodiment of the many signs and shirts worn today in reference to an ugly Trump remark about his vanquished presidential challenger. Milling around the streets as the marching part begins, worried quotes like, “But Pence doesn’t really believe in evolution …” are heard.

There’s also a comical reference to Donald Trump’s 32 percent favorable rating, with one sign maker comparing that with the Rotten Tomatoes score of Paul Blart: Mall Cop (33 percent). For now, I'm still in a place where I see just as many bright red hats that say “WTF America” on them as “MAGA,” which is a change of pace for this week.

Sign Watch, No Comment edition: "We F—ed Up Bigly" (pictured).

I'm taking a detour from the main march, where protesters appear to be clogging up more than just the intended streets, due to the sheer number of people who showed up Saturday.

At the pleasantly foggy Washington Monument midday, there is more of a mixed crowd. There are the joggers (maybe locals?) or bicycle riders there without any visible political affiliation, tourists walking as close as possible to the flag-adorned base as they can, special-interest groups in identically attired clothing walking in lockstep and people just gawking at whoever winds up strolling by.

comments powered by Disqus