The march, a reboot of sorts for an event that has been dogged by internal strife, was intended to highlight climate change, reproductive rights and immigration, three issues chosen by supporters and organizers. But many of the placards hoisted amid the throng mocked or assailed Trump, demanded his impeachment or urged his defeat in November.
“It’s all about Donald Trump,” said Laurie Kaczanowska, 66, a retired criminal prosecutor who came from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with friends to make the trek from a downtown plaza past the White House and back. “This march is about the many issues that face women and families, so climate change, of course, is up front. But here and now we have to pay attention to protecting our republic’s democracy. Because I think that’s in danger.”
In some ways, the focus on the president was a return to the driving factor of the first march, held the day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017. And many marchers said the administration’s policies could not be separated from the issues they were protesting.
Anna Colosi, 70, said she had come to the march from suburban Olney, Maryland, to take a public stance on abortion rights and “putting women in a position they don’t want to be in.”
“But it all ties into Trump,” she said, citing the president’s demeaning statements about some of his female critics and charges that he had assaulted or groped other women. “So many people now think that’s acceptable. I find it terrifying.”
The Washington protest was the marquee event in a day of demonstrations that brought out thousands of women — and plenty of men — to more than 250 sites nationwide. Some 25,000 people had pledged online to attend the march in the capital, according to Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the chief operating officer of Women’s March Inc., the nonprofit group that sponsors the protests and supports work for its causes. But many in the crowd said they had come without giving notice.
From Boise, Idaho, to Orlando, Florida, protesters flooded parks, streets and the grounds outside city halls.
The gatherings were filled with colorful signs, slogans for various Democratic presidential candidates and the trademark knitted hats that turned the National Mall into a sea of pink in 2017. Politicians and activists spoke at rallies around the country.
In New York City, snow dusted protesters who had gathered near Times Square, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, made a surprise appearance.
As in Washington, much of the protesters’ ire was focused on Trump, but the marches also became channels to express frustration over a range of local and national issues. A sign at the march in San Jose, California, said the local police department had failed rape victims. Placards in Douglas, Michigan, urged tighter gun restrictions, and some women in Greeley, Colorado, held signs protesting gerrymandering. In Chicago, several people urged residents to fill out the census in 2020.
Shannon Watts, the founder of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action, said she was speaking at marches in Contra Costa, Califiornia, and in San Francisco.
The march stirred another kind of protest this past week: The National Archives and Records Administration apologized Saturday for censoring a photograph of the 2017 Women’s March to blur out protesters’ signs that were critical of Trump. A spokeswoman for the archive initially defended the move to The Washington Post after the newspaper first reported on the alterations. But after an outcry from marchers, historians and other archivists, officials later said they had made the wrong decision and would replace the edited photograph with the original version.
The turnout Saturday came nowhere near that of the first march. As many as half a million demonstrators swamped the capital that day, and as many as 5.2 million marchers were estimated to have turned out at more than 650 protests nationwide.
But Women’s March leaders said a head count was a poor way to measure the movement’s strength. In Washington, a number of demonstrators were veterans of previous marches — in Washington, Minneapolis and even Antarctica — and said the event had played a key role in making them politically active.
“Someone has to keep pushing,” said Cara Horan, a recent Washington transplant from Chicago whose first Women’s March, in 2017, was at the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. “And there’s no point in waiting, because what I’ve learned in the last four years is that no one is going to fix anything for you. You have to be able and willing to do it yourself.”
The protest Saturday was the first organized by a revamped leadership of the Women’s March organization, which has been dogged by controversies and internal divisions from its start. Most prominently, some march officials were embroiled in charges of anti-Semitism in 2018, stoked by a refusal to disavow Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader widely criticized for his anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ positions.
Supporters discouraged by the organizers’ tight control of the movement formed their own organization, March On, seeking to broaden its reach beyond its politically liberal base.
In the past year, the Women’s March has overhauled its management and philosophy. Three of its founders have stepped down, and the group has diversified its board of directors.
“There are 16 new women leading the Women’s March as a volunteer board,” said Rinku Sen, a co-president of the Women’s March board of directors. “We’ve fixed what we could fix on the anti-Semitism front. We’ve acknowledged the mistakes we’ve made and the harm people have felt.”
On Pennsylvania Avenue on Saturday, Ella Swager, a 16-year-old high school student in Richmond, Virginia, was among the marchers. Her sign did not mention any of the grand narratives that had overwhelmed much of the national conversation — abortion, immigration, Trump. Rather, it bore a quotation from historian Howard Zinn: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
“What we’re doing here is a small act,” she said. “I took a train ride. I’m just walking a few miles. But millions of people doing things like this really are able to make a difference.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .