Politics & Government

DC women’s protest march outdraws Trump inauguration, with help from Georgia

After crowds for President Donald Trump’s inauguration failed to pack the National Mall on Friday, hundreds of thousands of Americans decided to come to the after-party on Saturday instead.

The Women’s March on Washington jammed the U.S. Capitol grounds and the area around the National Mall on Saturday with a festive and feisty swarm of several hundred thousand people, most of them women and girls of all ages. The event was organized by four women of varied ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The daylong event, which featured a host of celebrity speakers and entertainers, was simultaneously a show of support for gender rights and equality and a collective thumbs-down to Trump’s perceived insensitivity to women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community.

The robust crowds, which blocked traffic and clogged the subway system, also served as a sobering reminder that Trump did not win the popular vote. By early afternoon, the swelling crowd grew so large and unmanageable that the procession to the White House was canceled for safety reasons, making the march an apparent victim of its own success – though many women went ahead and marched anyway.

In a show of solidarity, thousands of women in attendance sported pink, knitted beanies with cat ears dubbed “pussy hats,” a not-so-subtle reference to Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” audiotape.

Others carried signs with slogans such as, “A woman’s place is in the resistance,” “Girls just want to have “fun-damental rights,” and “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

Augusta, Georgia, native Raquel Willis, communications associate for the Transgender Law Center, addressed the massive crowd in the afternoon, calling attendees “partners in resistance” who are making a “commitment to each other and to a new vision of liberation.”

“Today, I stand here with my mom as a proud, unapologetic, queer, black transgender woman from Augusta, Georgia,” Willis said to wild applause. “But I’m more than those labels,” she added. “I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an auntie, a friend, a lover, a human and a feminist.”

Among the revelers were several Macon residents, including Laura Moody, an associate professor of engineering at Mercer University.

Moody and more than 50 Middle Georgia area residents had boarded a charter bus Friday evening to make the overnight trip to Washington.

Moody said she had been taken aback by Trump’s “very dark” inauguration speech. “It was very antagonistic, isolationist and it did not give me a good, glowing feeling about the direction of our country,” she said.

But rather than a show of opposition to Trump, Moody’s decision to attend the march was more about support for gender equality and tolerance – both of which could be imperiled under Trump, she said.

Cameron Pennybacker, executive director and CEO of Diversity Assets, a nonprofit racial and social justice organization in Macon, decided to make the DC trip a two-fer, attending Trump’s inauguration and the women’s march.

After attending Obama’s first inauguration, Pennybacker said he was so “taken with our brand of American democracy” that he promised to attend every inauguration thereafter.

But Trump’s surprise victory tested that vow, he said. Pennybacker opted to come only after former Secretary of State Andrew Young encouraged him to become more engaged politically rather than to withdraw because of Trump. The decision by Democratic Congressman Sanford Bishop to attend Trump’s inauguration also helped sway his decision., Pennybacker said.

Like Moody, Pennybacker said he wanted to attend the march out of concern that advances in women’s right were in jeopardy and could be rolled back.

“So we wanted to be here as a measure of accountability and witness,” Pennybacker said. “And to put our voices in the mix for our expectations as American citizens and people who work, as Dr. ( Martin Luther) King said, ‘to bend the arc in a more just direction.’ ”

Paula Del Rio, a Macon resident who attended the march with her transgender husband, Jake Petermann, said Trump’s behavior on the campaign also played a part in their decision to attend.

“We’re marching because the way he conducted himself as a candidate was disrespectful, misogynist and sexist. And his vice president is homophobic,” Del Rio said.

“Our principles are very clear for why we’re marching,” she continued. “We’re marching for women’s rights. And that includes reproductive rights. We’re marching for immigrants. We’re marching because we believe Black Lives Matter. We’re really marching because we believe that transgender women deserve better treatment. It’s basically about that more than (Trump).”