Hundreds of thousands of people streamed into the nation’s capital Saturday for a march in support of women’s rights and civil rights, the largest of dozens of marches in the United States and around the world that served as an admonishment for President Donald Trump a day after his inauguration.
An estimated half million people converged on Washington, and tens of thousands joined marches and rallies in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Kansas City and dozens of other U.S. cities. Rallies also were held in London, Paris, Sydney, Ottawa and Nairobi.
A contingent of marchers from the Kansas City area arrived in Washington Saturday morning after a 24-hour bus ride. When the charter bus screeched to a stop, more than 50 Kansans and Missourians wearing rainbow and pink pussycat hats and gripping protest signs jumped out in the middle of a street.
The Kansas City women banded together and pushed through the crowd, their Midwest-related signs held high. Other participants approached and said things like, “You came all the way from Kansas? Thank you so much.”
The Kansas City contingent laughed and continued to inch forward. Once in place, they stood and listened to several speakers who passionately urged participants to come together to fight for social and civil right issues they fear Trump and his Cabinet threaten, such as reproductive rights, health care access, and justice reform.
The crowd at the Women’s March on Washington chanted the name of feminist icon Gloria Steinem as she took the stage.
Steinem recognized the hundreds of sister marches throughout the country and around the world, including a march in Berlin whose organizers wanted America to know that “we in Berlin know that walls don’t work,” a reference to the wall Trump said he would build between the United States and Mexico.
At another point Steinem said, “Thank you for understanding that we put our bodies where our beliefs are.”
The words resonated with Gretchen Parkison, 41, of Kansas City.
“That struck me because I have spent my life trying to make my body as small as possible and as unnoticeable as possible, to make it as pretty and unimposing as possible and it made me miserable,” said Parkison, who carried a sign saying, “my body is mine.”
“I actually did put my body where my beliefs are this weekend and I feel changed by it.”
In front of the speakers was a sea of people. Organizers had expected 200,000 participants, but by mid-afternoon media outlets estimated the crowd at 500,000.
Crowds were so large at some regional Metro subway system stations that authorities stopped charging riders and opened turnstiles as a safety measure. The DC Metro system announced that as of 11 a.m., 275,000 had ridden the subway, 82,000 more riders than at the same hour on the day of Trump’s inauguration.
Despite their numbers and high emotions, not a single protestor was arrested, Washington police said Saturday afternoon. The day before at Trump’s inauguration, 200 mostly anti-Trump protesters were arrested.
Among the thousands of protest signs, one reflected the theme of the day in a humorous vein: “Where do I even start?”
“It’s an extraordinary day,” said Sen. Kamala Harris, a newly installed Democrat from California. “We are at an inflection point in the history of our country.”
The marches in Washington and elsewhere brought to the fore groups that repudiate Trump, domestically and globally, and his vision of the country, which some see as exclusionary. Protest issues also included Trump’s relations with Russia, government surveillance, concern about billionaire leaders and migrant rights.
A group of antiabortion women also attended the Washington march, beseeching the larger march to recognize their variety of feminism. Whether to include the conservative viewpoint sparked controversy in the days before the march. Antiabortion women said they were excluded.
As the crowd grew, it became impossible to travel down a planned route to near the White House, and the march was replaced with a stationary rally.
One of the first speakers was actress and activist America Ferrera. “The president is not America. His Cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America, and we are here to stay,” she said.
“If we fall into the trap of separating ourselves by our causes and our labels then we will lose,” she added.
“We recognize that we are collective agents of history and history cannot be deleted from web pages,” political activist Angela Davis said.
The singer Madonna stirred up some controversy with expletive-laden remarks that cable TV networks cut away from. CNN later apologized.
In her speech, Madonna said she had “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” But then she backed off, noting, “I know this won’t change anything” and told the crowd, “We cannot fall into despair.”
President Trump attended an interfaith prayer service Saturday at Washington National Cathedral. That took him far from the National Mall.
Neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the service, which is an inaugural tradition dating to George Washington, and none of the dozen religious leaders who led the gathering mentioned the protesters.
Trump then paid a visit to CIA, and on his way back as his motorcade wound through downtown Washington, he passed by protesters lining the streets. They screamed and chanted as he drove past.
Thousands gathered on the Ellipse were also visible from the White House lawn. Their roar was also clearly audible to passengers stepping out of the presidential motorcade and back into the White House.
Along the protest route, participants climbed scaffolding and lampposts for better views, and took selfies in front of landmarks.
“It’s frigging amazing,” said Sarah Lankford of Chandler, Ariz. “I’m in my element!”
Lankford said she was delighted that the crowd appeared larger than that for the inauguration.
“This is history in the making and I just love it,” she said. “It’s not divisive like the election, it’s beautiful.”
Susan Sherman of Springfield, Va., said she felt compelled to attend Saturday’s rally after hearing that Steinem and Davis would speak. “How could a child of the ‘70s not come?” she said.
Katie Archbold of San Francisco said it seemed her entire flight was women going to the march.
“Trump is already impacting health care. This is happening. When he sees the march today, I hope he listens,” she said.
Health care was also top of mind for Mari Gribble of Kansas, one of the bus riders from Kansas City.
She wore a pink pussycat hat — a double-entendre intended to reference their resemblance to cat ears and to a vulgar comment Trump had been recorded making.
But Gribble’s hat had a piece of paper bearing her daughter’s name, Elizabeth McGranahan, pinned to the side. McGranahan was diagnosed with a bone marrow deficiency in seventh grade and died at age 19.
She was an enthusiastic student, her mother said, who loved doing debate club and working for the school newspaper. She wanted to become a journalist.
When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, McGranahan was about to travel to Minnesota for a bone marrow transplant. Gribble remembers how emotional her daughter got.
“She started sobbing and she said how grateful she was that she would have health care for the rest of her life,” Gribble said. “At 18, she already cared so much about health care.”
Gribble said she thought her daughter would have chosen to march Saturday, and so she marched in her memory.
“Free press and health care are kind of my things now,” Gribble said.
The march also attracted powerful legislators.
Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat and one of the Senate’s top liberals, said it had been tough to attend Trump’s inauguration.
“But I also recognize that the most important thing about yesterday was that we do have a peaceful transfer of power,” she said.
“What goes around comes around, and when Democrats win again we want to make sure that we are there for everybody, and I felt that it was important that he see that there’s a lot of us there who make up this country.”
Hannah Allam, Elizabeth Koh, Eric Wuestewald, Josh Magness, Rob Hotakainen, Matthew Schofield and Vera Bergengruen contributed to this report. The Associated Press and Slate also contributed.