WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was a call to action, a primal scream, an arts and crafts project and a massive group therapy session all rolled into one.
The Women’s March on Washington brought an estimated 500,000-plus women and men to Independence Avenue near the National Mall to raise voices and fists against the policies and the personal behavior of the nation’s newly minted president, Donald Trump.
Speakers during the marathon five-hour rally that preceded the march to the Washington Monument included actresses America Ferrera, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson and veteran activists Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis. Filmmaker Michael Moore led attendees in a recitation of the telephone number for the main Congressional switchboard as he urged them to call their representatives every day on various action items.
Over and over, speakers urged marchers to be the activists leading the “resistance” to Trump’s agenda on issues such as immigration, abortion rights and health care. “The President is not America,” said Ferrera, who helped organize the event. “We are America.” Planned Parenthood was a big presence at the event, given the threat of defunding from the nascent Trump administration.
“There are very real and devastating consequences to limited access to what should be considered basic health care,” Johansson said. She told the crowd of her experience as a 15-year-old going for checkups and treatment and Planned Parenthood.
Numerous speakers echoed Ferrera’s assertion that the diversity on display on stage and in the crowds reflected the true reality of the country, in spite of Trump’s victory and the alarming displays of racism and xenophobia that accompanied the meteoric rise of the one-time reality TV star in politics. “We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance,” Ferrera said.
Judd was fiery, even likening Trump to Adolf Hitler. “We are here to be nasty,” she shouted. Steinem mocked Trump’s habit of firing off unfiltered thoughts via Twitter. “His Twitter finger must not become a trigger finger,” she said.
Steinem and others implored the crowd to put their anger and anxiety about Trump to good use by turning to activism and running for political office. “This is the upside of the downside” of Trump, she said. “This is an outpouring of energy like I have never seen.”
Pop stars Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae and Maxwell were among the performers. Madonna made a surprise appearance at the end, giving a salty speech and performing “Express Yourself” and “Human Nature,” the latter of which she dedicated to Trump.
The crowd packed more than 10 blocks of Independence Avenue, stretching from 3rd to 17th streets. The scene amounted to a sea of pink “pussyhats,” knit hats with triangular cat-like ears sewn in, a symbol of protest against Trump’s now famous “grab them by the pussy” boast.
Many of those hats were handmade, as were most of the signs held above the crowd or pinned on shirts or worn as capes. It was clear that some poured their anxiety and anger after Election Day into knitting and sewing hats for the occasion and crafting compelling signs. The Women’s March also yielded sister solidarity marches in major cities around the country.
In Washington, with the Capitol rotunda in the background, the sea of signs took aim at Trump in every which way. A widely used motif was cats and artistic renderings of vaginas; “This pussy grabs back” and “Keep your tiny hands off my pussy” were popular slogans. Trump was skewered for his orange-hued hair and skin tone, his “tiny hands,” the “nasty woman” barb he threw at his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton and the perception that he is friendly with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump’s newly nominated cabinet members came in for a drubbing, particularly controversial Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and Attorney General candidate Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama.
The gathering became a giant safety-valve release of pent-up frustration for liberal voters and others who fear Trump’s policy agenda. Beyond all of the fist-pumping about the “sisterhood,” there were shouts and signs hoisted focused on climate change concerns, Native American, gun control and funding for public education, among other hot-button issues. Attendees seemed to find both strength in numbers and solace in commiserating about the dawn of the Trump administration. There were even isolated chants of “Lock him up,” a sarcastic nod to the chants directed at Clinton that were a staple of Trump’s campaign rally.
Marchers flowed in to Washington from all the around the country to grab a piece of that shared experience. There were signs of the many groups who chartered buses and coordinated air travel as groups from various regions expressed their state pride. California, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia were among the states that turned out a large presence.
New York-based filmmaker Liz Garbus (“What Happened, Miss Simone?) attended the rally with her father and two children, daughter Amelia, 12, and son Theo, 10. Garbus wanted her kids to experience Washington on inauguration day, when Trump supporters were out in force in the city, and the power of the defiance on display at the march.
“It’s been deeply moving to see all these colliding visions of America,” Garbus said. “It’s been interesting to be here on both days.”
The Women’s March came together after Election Day by a group of activists looking to channel outrage into action. The event had its choppy moments. By the fourth hour of speechifying, many in the massive crowd weren’t shy about making their voices heard by chanting “march, march, march” to drown out the speaker on stage.
A sampling of statements from signs wielded at the Women’s March on Washington:
- Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights
- Free Melania
- Streep 2020
- Our Pussies Aren’t for Grabbing
- Women’s Rights are Human Rights
- Trump Is Fake News
- The 1950s Were Not That Great. I Know! I Was There
- My Momma Don’t Like You and She Likes Everyone (with Trump picture)
- Femme Ain’t Frail
- Takes One to Grab One
- Feminist AF. Imma Be President. You Mad?
- Not Usually a Sign Guy But Geez