WASHINGTON — On his first day in office, President Donald J. Trump was greeted by hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets of Washington, D.C., a massive show of no confidence in a leader who enters the White House with the lowest approval rating in modern times.
The Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 was the most high-profile of several hundred demonstrations held around the globe to protest Trump’s swearing-in the previous day.
Turnout at marches in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles more than doubled organizers’ expectations. Planners for the Washington march had applied for a permit for 200,000 demonstrators; crowd-counting experts placed the crowd at nearly half a million, which spilled out across the National Mall and into the surrounding streets.
Protestors flooded across the White House lawn and made it as far as the building’s wrought-iron gates before being stopped by a line of Secret Service agents. A ragtag band set up stage on the lawn, belting out “When the Saints Come Marching In” and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee,” in concert with passerby.
Though called the Women’s March, the Washington demonstration drew men too, and cut across racial and generational divides. One protestor bore a sign that read, “Now you’ve pissed off Grandma”; another, a young girl, carried one that read, “Nasty woman in training.”
Trump took to his usual channel of Twitter to address the demonstrators. “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election!” he tweeted. “Why didn’t these people vote?”
Only 45 percent of Americans approve of the new president, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. The rating is the lowest in the history of the poll, which began in 1945 with the election of Harry Truman.
Estimates from Washington transportation officials suggest more showed up to the Women’s March than Trump’s inauguration. On Saturday, the city’s subway system recorded 1,001,613 trips, compared to 570,557 the previous day, The Washington Post reported.
D.C. Councilman Charles Allen said the city issued 1,200 bus parking permits for the march, but only 200 for the inauguration.
Trump, who complained of lowballing by the media about the size of his inaugural crowds, claimed that 1.5 million showed up to his swearing-in. Two crowd-counting experts at Manchester Metropolitan University, however, analyzed the inauguration’s turnout with overhead imagery and estimated it at 160,000, The New York Times reported.
The same professors used similar techniques to gauge the size of the Women’s March, and placed it at 470,000, nearly triple the inauguration’s turnout.
In September, he criticized a former winner of the Miss Universe pageant, which he owned from 1996 to 2015, telling Fox News she had “gained a massive amount of weight” as a contestant and that “it was a real problem.” He later called the woman “disgusting” on Twitter, and encouraged his Twitter following to check out her sex tape (which does not exist).
Just a few weeks later, a damning tape from 2005 surfaced in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he says in the tape. “You can do anything.”
Trump apologized for his comments the night the tape was released, saying, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.” But he also said it was “a distraction from the issues we are facing today,” and in the following weeks brushed aside mention of the comments, calling them “locker-room talk.”
On Election Day, neither the tape nor his Miss Universe comments persuaded a resounding majority of women to vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who captured only 54 percent of the female vote, according to The Washington Post’s exit polls.
The Women’s March was born the night of Clinton’s defeat, on Facebook, as Hawaii retiree Teresa Shook grappled with the prospect of a Trump presidency. Shook created a Facebook event for a march on Washington to be held the day after the inauguration; when she woke up the next morning, the event had snowballed, and plans were under way for similar marches in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The sheer number of demonstrators in Washington created logistical problems for organizers and city officials, who had expected a much smaller turnout. The subway system, burdened by what officials said was the most riders in city history since Obama’s 2009 inauguration, broke down multiple times, stranding marchers underground in packed trains for hours.
But the tenor of the march remained peaceful — even, at times, hopeful. Unlike the previous day’s demonstrations, in which D.C. police clashed with protestors and arrested over 200 people, no arrests were reported in Saturday’s march.
Marchers sported pink hand-knitted caps with cat ears, dubbed “pussy hats,” a reference to Trump’s boasts in the 2005 tape about grabbing female genitalia. Spontaneous waves of cheering coursed through the pink-hatted, sign-bearing sea, which chanted (“We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”), roared and sang its way through the nation’s capital, accompanied by horn blasts of approval from passing cars and buses.
For the march’s organizers, however, the true challenge will be in the weeks to come, as they attempt to transform Saturday’s outpouring of support into a sustained movement.
Unlike previous demonstrations of similar scope — the Vietnam War protests, or MLK’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom — Saturday’s marchers rallied behind no single, unifying cause. They came to protest xenophobia, support reproductive rights and protect the environment, and they represented an array of interest groups, from Black Lives Matter to Greenpeace and Planned Parenthood.
What brought them all to the capital was a common aversion to Trump, but it’s unclear whether that sentiment alone will be enough to sustain a national movement. The march’s organizers have rolled out a “10 Actions, 100 Days” campaign, aimed at increasing political participation; the first of the ten actions calls for marchers to mail postcards to their senators.
One Washington demonstrator, however, was hopeful that Saturday’s march was not a one-and-done phenomenon, but a sign of things to come. “This is not a moment,” her sign read. “This is a movement.”
Photos by MATTHEW ORMSETH/Rafu Shimpo