The millions who said “Not our president”

January 24, 2017

Nicole Colson rounds up reports of massive demonstrations from around the country.

WE KNEW they'd be big. But they ended up being "YOOGE," as a certain incoming commander in chief might say.

Across the U.S. and around the globe, masses of people disgusted with the bigot who officially moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took to the streets to say "Not my president" and to oppose the right-wing attacks that the Trump administration has planned.

People marched against Trump on all seven continents--a first for presidential inaugural protests. (Yes, even in Antarctica, where a group of tourists and environmental activists protested in defense of penguins and the planet.)

While Trump's team began his presidency with bald-faced lies about the size of the crowds that (didn't) turn out for his swearing-in on January 20, the best estimates for the January 21 women's marches were between 3.3 million and 4.5 million people.

That sent a resounding "no" to Trump: No, we will not stand by as women's rights are attacked; No, we will not stay silent as racist hate is unleashed; No, we will not be complacent as the rich get richer, and working people face further assaults.

Hundreds of thousands stand up for women's rights in New York City
Hundreds of thousands stand up for women's rights in New York City

Everywhere, the massive numbers of protesters--in several cities, there were counted the largest protest gatherings ever in their histories--provided a sense of excitement and hope to those who understand the only way to stop Trump is by building uncompromising resistance to his agenda.

As one sign carried by a protester in Seattle summed up, Trump-style: "We know marches. We do the best marches. (They're terrific.) Everyone agrees."

In New York City, site of the largest protest outside of Washington, some 500,000 people gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Midtown Manhattan for a march that traveled close to Trump's own doorstep--Trump Tower.

According to one report, the march was so massive that it took well over three hours for the last of the crowd to set off on the march route along 42nd Street and up 5th Avenue. The route was packed as far as the eye could see, and crowds of protesters trying waited on side streets to make it onto 5th Avenue for the opportunity to raise their voices at Trump Tower.

Protesters were awash in the ubiquitous pink "pussy" hats and handmade signs. Many declared the women holding them to be "nasty" (a favorite Trump slur), while men held signs that appropriated Hillary Clinton's campaign slogan "I'm with her" and added arrows pointing to the women next to them.

Other signs and banners focused on issues of racism, immigrant rights, LGBT oppression and more. Among them were: "You can't comb over sexism," "Black lives matter" and "Build a bridge, not a wall."

"A lot is at stake," marcher Jennifer Tavis told the New York Daily News. "There are so many issues to support, but I think we are for fighting [for] reproductive rights, health care and equality."

Others echoed the need for solidarity. "It's obvious to us that he's bringing back--and has brought about--division,"retiree Mildred Taylor explained to "We know what division can lead to--divide and conquer. This is what he's all about."

In Chicago, a crowd of several thousand rallied at Daley Plaza on January 20 and then marched to the city's Trump Hotel and Tower. Speakers focused on immigrant rights and other issues, and protesters chanted "Donald, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" ("Donald, listen! We are fighting!).

Earlier in the day, Students Together Against Trump (STAT), a new student coalition at DePaul University, organized a "Day of Defiance" that drew approximately 40 students for a speakout and march on campus preceding the Daley Plaza event. The protesters were cheered on by campus workers as they led chants and marched.

Then came the incredible display on January 21. The Chicago Women's March packed Grant Park to overflowing with some 250,000 people--the largest protest in the city since the mass immigrant rights marches of 2006.

Despite a last-minute change in venue to accommodate the crowd, the protest grew so quickly that the march was canceled for safety reasons. Despite this, tens of thousands of protesters decided to march to Federal Plaza anyway, taking hours to travel the short distance because of the size of the crowd.

The handmade signs of protests carried distinctive and funny messages, like the one reading "Thou shalt not mess with women's reproductive rights. -- Fallopians, 4:28" and "Orange is not the new Black." As they marched, some protesters raised chants of "No hate, no fear! Muslims are welcome here." One group of 8-year-olds with bullhorns led a chant of "A, B, C, D, E, F, G--Donald Trump is a big bully."

Presbyterian pastor Abbie Heimach-Snipes explained why she carried a sign reading "Nobody's free until everybody's free"--a quote from civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer: "It's important to me, as a woman, as a white woman, as a pastor, to think about being led by [Hamer's] words--that we are all connected, and that when someone is crying out, we need to be standing with them."

Chicago residents Vanisa Patel and Asra Salim, who work in public health, said Trump's attacks on health care moved them to attend. Salim said it was "incredibly humbling to see so many people come together to support equality for everyone...As a Pakistani Muslim woman, seeing people supporting Muslim rights got me close to tears a few times. It just feels good knowing that you're not alone, because sometimes it feels that way."

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) member Amy Bergeson carried a sign referencing the children's book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? "I see a highly unqualified Secretary of Education nominee," the sign read, featuring a picture of Trump's pick Betsy DeVos.

"Trump has nominated someone who has never taught a day in her life, who has no actual education background, is opposed to public education and is not a good choice for education in this country," Bergeson said.

But the attacks on education aren't coming only from Republicans--they have been carried out by Chicago's own Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "In Chicago," said Bergeson, "we have this view like, 'Hey, we're a liberal city, we care about this kind of stuff,' and yet we have a mayor who literally wants to shut down the public schools and privatize them."

She concluded: "I think if we continue to stand up, then Rahm, [Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce] Rauner and Trump will see that and back down."

Downtown Los Angeles was packed with protesters on January 21, with a crowd unlike anything since the massive pro-immigrant marches of 2006. Estimates suggest that between 750,000 and 1 million people flooded the streets in the slow march to City Hall.

Activists, musicians and celebrities addressed the crowd, including Jane Fonda, Laverne Cox, Lily Tomlin, Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk, and many more. But the real story were the hundreds of thousands of signs, chants and demands coming from the crowd, which included signs like "Sí, se puede," "Feminists fight back," and "Fly Kites not Drones."

Many of the protesters were marching for the first time in their lives, like 27-year-old Steven, who carried the stark sign: "I was 26 when I was diagnosed with cancer. The [Affordable Care Act] saved my life."

Cari said she came to the protest because she realized that "it's going to take a mass movement to bring down Trump."

In Boston, as many as 200,000 people joined the Women's March in the one of largest demonstrations in the city's history on January 21. The day before, as many as 10,000 people protested at two different anti-inauguration actions.

On Saturday, the vast majority of the crowd stayed to take part in the march, some waiting in packed crowds for more than two-and-a-half hours to do so. The march route had to be lengthened on the spot to accommodate the numbers.

Sandy, a member of the Mass Teachers Association, said she was compelled to march when it became clear that Trump was an open sexual predator. "I couldn't believe he could say those things and become president," Sandy said. "Before that, I didn't ever think of marching. I have a daughter, and I'm here for her."

Trump's open misogyny was not the only issue marchers came to protest. "I work at a community health center," explained Alexandra Daniel. "Most of my co-workers and our clients are refugees, mostly from Africa right now. I worry about what will happen to them.

"I find Trump extremely offensive. Everyone is under attack, and it's important for people to be empathetic. It's important to stand in solidarity with refugees and Muslims and anyone else being endangered."

Speakers at the march painted a generally inclusive picture about the importance of standing up for Muslims, LGBTQ people, women and union workers--although reciging the Pledge of Allegiance and singing "God Bless America" were clearly alienating to non-citizens.

In Seattle, students who walked out of classes, immigrants' rights groups, socialists and scores of community members converged from various scattered starting locations on Westlake Plaza on January 20 for a rally of some 3,500.

Earlier, at the University of Washington, students gathered at the campus's "Red Square" before holding teach-ins organized by RESIST, a coalition of student groups.

The UW protest then moved on to Westlake Plaza. There, speakers made impassioned calls to build solidarity, and socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant implored the crowd to recognize the importance of mass movements: "We need to build mass nonviolent civil disobedience. Tens of thousands of people can shut down highways."

Later that evening, more than 200 students and other protesters gathered at the UW campus to protest an appearance by right-winger Milo Yiannopoulos. Frighteningly, one anti-racist activist was shot by an older man claiming self-defense. The anti-racist activist is reportedly in critical condition with potentially "life-threatening" injuries.

The following day, as many as 150,000 protesters came out to the Seattle's Womxn's March starting at Judkin's Park in the historically Black Central District, before marching to the iconic Space Needle.

The march was over three miles long and peppered with chants of "We do not consent! He is not our president," "Refugees are people--no one is illegal," and "2-4-6-8, abortion rights in every state."

In San Francisco, a rainy Saturday morning didn't deter marchers from packing Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains to get to the January 21 Bay Area Women's March, which drew more than 100,000 people.

As they travelled, passengers complimented each others' placards, swapped news about marches in other cities, and quoted the weirdest phrases from Trump's inauguration address. "Thanks Trump!" read one woman's sign. "You've made me an activist."

This was a common theme over the weekend. "I think the election was a wakeup call for people like me--people who haven't been as active as they should have been," said Mimi, a young woman who attended a counter-inauguration event on the evening of January 20 that drew several thousand people. "If not now, when?"

The crowd at the Saturday Women's March filled the streets around United Nations Plaza to hear speeches and music, before marching down Market Street as the rain intensified. Women chanted, "Our bodies, our choice," as men responded, "Your bodies, your choice!" Anti-racist chants were popular, including "No borders, no nations--stop deportations."

In an homage to Star Wars' Carrie Fisher, one popular sign featured Fisher as Princess Leia, with the words "A woman's place is in the resistance." "We have to speak up and make our voices heard," said Christen, a restaurant server. "We've got a long fight ahead."

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, in Berkeley, California, the Berkeley Against Trump Coalition--formed by students, staff, faculty and community members at the University of California (UC) after the election--hosted a campus-wide teach-out and walkout on January 20.

A combination of teach-outs, organizing on social media, and a phone banking by United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents more than 16,000 student workers in the University of California system, led to nine campus walkouts, from Davis to San Diego.

At noon, more than 1,000 Berkeley students walked out of class and attended a rally at Sproul Plaza. Speakers and protest signs referenced LGBTQ issues, Black Lives Matter, Islamphobia, climate change, Standing Rock, and immigrant rights, along with demands for sanctuary campuses and disbanding the UC Regents.

In Oakland on the following day, more than 60,000 people turned out for the January 21 Women's March, flooding Madison Park with multiple feeder marches. Teachers, students and parents from public schools formed large contingents, along with smaller groups, like physicians from the Oakland UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, who marched in white lab coats.

When asked why she was marching, Shayna Steumpfig from the Berkeley Federation of Teachers said, "To send a message to the new president that we will not tolerate a leader that promotes rape culture, racism, or legislation that supports bigotry. It's a message to tell him that he will not be able to undo all the work people have done."

Gwen, a transgender rights activist marching with her two daughters, stated, "I hope this is a warning shot across the bow. I want them to know how angry and disgusted a very large number of us are. I [also] hope it inspires more people to be activists."

The day before, longshore workers effectively closed at least one terminal and temporarily shut down operations at the Port of Oakland by failing to show up for work.

In Austin, Texas, January 20 saw an afternoon walkout that drew as many as 400 people at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin. Called by the Anti-Trump J20 Organizing Committee, a coalition of students, faculty, and workers, participants chanted, "Starting this January, make UT a sanctuary!"

The Coalition's demands include that UT support for the Fight for 15 movement and a living wage for all UT employees. Speakers included Fight for 15 workers on strike against Carl's Jr., a company owned by Trump's pick for secretary of Labor, Andrew Pudzer.

Vanessa Rodriguez, an undocumented student from the University Leadership Initiative, told the crowd, "We are here because we fear the incoming administration, but we are ready to fight back!"

The following day, an estimated 50,000 people crowded onto the state Capitol grounds from all directions to stand in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington. It was, according to the organizers, the largest gathering of women in Texas history. Charter buses from all over the state lined the sidewalks around the Capitol for the rally, which was sponsored by more than 30 organizations.

As one woman said of the day, "This makes me proud to be a Texan!"

In San Diego, hundreds of protesters took to the streets on January 20 despite rainy conditions.

In the morning, demonstrators gathered on the San Diego City College campus at a rally organized by the San Diego Alliance for Justice, before marching to nearby San Diego High School in support of the students, who had been barred from joining the protest after campus security locked the gates. They gathered outside the administration building, chanting "San Diego High, shame on you!" and "Let them go!"

The march continued downtown for a rally at the federal building. Later in the evening, protesters gathered for an event organized by Union del Barrio and marched through the streets of Barrio Logan chanting, "Sin papeles, sin miedo" ("Undocumented, unafraid") and "Fuera Trump" ("Leave, Trump")

The following day, 40,000 people gathered at San Diego's Civic Center Plaza, flooding the surrounding streets, for the largest demonstration in San Diego for over a decade.

Jackie Strong from the San Diego Alliance for Justice made a call for solidarity: "There are no workers' rights without women's rights; there is no economic equality without an end to institutionalized racism. And there is no future for any of us if we continue to depend on fossil fuels, sealing the fate of our planet."

In Madison, Wisconsin, some 75,000 people marched on January 21, rivaling "the turnout at the largest protests of Gov. Scott Walker's proposal in 2011 that would effectively end collective bargaining rights in the public sector," as the Wisconsin State Journal pointed out.

In Montpelier, Vermont, the population of the country's smallest state capital tripled on January 21 as 20,000 protesters converged on the statehouse to take part in the international day of action against Trump's inauguration. Eventually, the state police shut down three highway exits and told organizers, "Montpelier is at capacity."

In New Orleans, some 1,000 Trump opponents rallied on January 20 in front of City Hall and marched down Canal Street.

Black Lives Matter activists, the Congreso de Jornaleros immigrant rights organization, students, restaurant workers, nurses and some doctors, local union members in SEIU and others raised their voices against the incoming president.

The following day, the New Orleans Women's March drew an estimated crowd of 10,000. Marchers packed and overflowed Washington Square Park in a protest larger than any held in the city in recent years. The march included a jazz band and protesters carried a sea of homemade signs, including one carried by a 10 year old that read, "If you build a wall, my generation will take it down" (carried by a 10-year-old).

In Pittsburgh, Inauguration weekend was a busy one for the activist community. The People's Inauguration, hosted by One Pennsylvania, was attended by nearly 300 people on January 20. Later that day, a few hundred people gathered for a rally and march at Point State Park organized by Socialist Alternative.

The following morning, activists participated in the 19th Annual Summit Against Racism in the East Liberty neighborhood and, later, for an unpermitted "Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional" rally and march, as well as a separate, permitted "Sister March for Pittsburgh" held downtown.

Over 2,000 people attended the unpermitted rally and march, as a diverse set of speakers covered topics including fighting racism, LGBTQ rights, affordable housing, health care, and the rights of the disabled, among other things.

In Asheville, North Carolina, as many as 10,000 turned out for the main protest of the weekend, a stunning number considering that the population of Asheville is just 87,000. Protesters started in Pack Square Park before marching through downtown to the Vance Monument.

In Poughkeepsie, New York, some 8,000 people turned out, dwarfing organizers' expectations to march across the Poughkeepsie Walking Bridge that spans the Hudson River.

A wide spectrum of groups were represented, including Black Lives Matter, the Service Employees International Union, Citizen Action Network and more. Although fear amongst undocumented communities might have kept turnout low amongst some immigrants, the crowd overall was diverse, with many people attending their first protest.

"Trump: too many issues for one sign," read one sign. "Fight Racism," read another. Local activists are continuing to discuss how to build a sanctuary movement as we head into the Trump presidency.

Cindy Beringer, Anton Bredl, Jose Camacho, Ann Coleman, Claire Douglas, Tim Gaughan, Jamie Hinton, Charles Holm, Kate Jeffreys, Kat McGhee, Alpana Mehta, Ryan Nanni, Sam Peiffer, Steven Pillen, Jim Ramey, Daniel Werst and Eva Woods contributed to this article.

Further Reading

From the archives