Donald Trump hammered home in his inaugural address outside the Capitol building Friday the promise he had sewn onto so many red ballcaps: that he would Make America Great Again. In the same spot the following day, protesters with far less nostalgia for America’s past – women who lived through the Civil Rights movement, who came of age in an era when abortion was criminalized, who have vivid memories of a time when gay men and women were regularly victimized – have gathered to say, We are not going back.
An estimated 500,000 marchers – more than double the crowd that showed up to watch Trump’s swearing-in – are squeezed onto the National Mall with their families and their hand-drawn signs and their pink knit caps, waiting for their turn to talk at the Women’s March on Washington.
They self-describe as “nasty,” but for the most part the marchers are good: they don’t push, they carry their possessions in translucent bags, as requested, and their posters don’t have poles or sticks or stakes. Some are frustrated to see the evangelical Christians who are parked in the middle of the Mall hoisting signs that read “Attention Rebellious Jezebels” and “Abortion Is Murder” with strictly verboten metal poles.
It isn’t fair, but add it to the fucking list: Hillary Clinton earned three million more votes than Donald Trump and still lost the presidency. Women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men – women of color even less. They have only 19 percent representation in Congress.
As they’ve proven by turning out in record numbers all over the U.S. and the world Saturday, women are tired of double standards. So they surround the anti-abortion protesters and chant, “My body, my choice!” and “Love trumps hate!” loud enough to drown out the bullhorn.
A teenage boy leans out from the Newseum’s second-floor balcony, waving and kissing his star-spangled Make America Great Again hat and hollering, “Jesus loves you! Donald Trump loves you!” as the march sweeps down Pennsylvania Avenue. The marchers channel Michelle Obama, drowning him out with chants of, “When they go low, we go high!”
For the millions of men and women pouring into the streets around the world Saturday, the march is a show of force, proof that for however many people are happy about Donald Trump’s inauguration – and that number is far smaller than he or his press secretary would have us believe – many more are unhappy. Across the country, and in countries around the globe, people are showing up to drown Trump out.
Just past the Newseum, four women – ages 57, 66, 77 and 79 – are sitting on a bench, watching as a line of police vans cuts through the protesters. One of the women, Roberta Safer, explains why they drove together from Maryland for the march. “I demonstrated in 1957 for Civil Rights,” she says. “It’s still the same problems, and Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are going to reverse many of the things that we’ve had. … It just upsets me to see us go backwards.”
Her friend Rosanna Mason has similar concerns. “My wife, before she died, was a teacher. I’m getting texts constantly from her students: ‘What about me, what about me? Am I going to be deported? Are they going to send me to [conversion] therapy?’ A lot of people are scared.” She says she tells them the only thing she can: that she remembers how she coped as a lesbian before gay rights were mainstream. “I remember back in the Seventies, I remember the Eighties, the violence. I tell them to hold on to your friends. … because when we all do it together, we’ll be stronger.”
The Bikers for Trump have set up a counter-protest in support of the new president at a park on Pennsylvania Avenue. There aren’t more than 20 Trump supporters there, but they have a stage equipped with speakers blasting Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith and Kid Rock at an unreasonable volume. At one point, the group’s head, Chris Cox, gets onstage and tells the marchers, “On November 8th, America voted, and it voted for Donald Trump.”
“Three million votes! Three million votes!” they chant back.
Off to one side, 31-year-old Courtney Miller is holding a sign that reads, “Sorry. Were my civil rights getting the way of your privilege?” She asks a man in a Confederate hat why he still wears it even though the South lost. He retorts by asking her why she has black pride – her people lost too, he says. For ten minutes, he tries (and fails) to defend an indefensible point, while she maintains her composure, trying, maybe in vain, to reason with him.
“You never get anything accomplished by fighting, by yelling and screaming. We’re not going to get our points across. We might leave here today and agree to disagree, but maybe I said something that will make him think,” Miller says after the interaction. “I’m standing here because my grandparents had to do this. Now I have to do this. I’m hoping my kids don’t have to do this. We’re marching for the same things, and I’m getting tired.”