Large crowds of women, many wearing bright pink knit hats, poured into downtown Washington by bus, train and car on Saturday for a march in opposition to US President Donald Trump only a day after the Republican took office.
The Washington event was expected to be the largest of a series of marches across the world in cities including Sydney, London, Tokyo and New York to criticize the new president’s often angry, populist rhetoric.
Trump has angered many liberal Americans with comments seen as demeaning to women, Mexicans and Muslims, and worried some abroad with his inaugural vow on Friday to put “America First” in his decision making.
On Friday, the nation’s capital was rocked by violent protests against the businessman-turned-politician, with black-clad anti-establishment activists smashing windows, setting vehicles on fire and fighting with riot police who responded with stun grenades.
The protests illustrated the depth of the anger in a deeply divided country that is still recovering from the scarring 2016 campaign season. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major US party.
“It’s important that our rights be respected. People have fought hard for our rights and President Trump has made it clear that he does not respect of them,” said Lexi Milani, a 41-year-old restaurant owner from Baltimore, who had ridden down in a bus with 28 friends.
“I just want people to feel empowered and go home and be active. Call your Congressman, run for office,” Milani said. “I don’t want people to feel defeated.”
Washington subway trains and platforms were packed with people. The Metro sent a service alert warning of “system-wide delays due to extremely large crowds.” At least one station was closed to new passengers because of the crowds backed up on the platform.
The Women’s March on Washington, featuring speakers, celebrity appearances and a protest walk along the National Mall, is the brainchild of Hawaiian grandmother Teresa Shook and is intended as an outlet for women and their male supporters to vent their frustration and anxiety over Trump’s victory.
Organizers said they expected several hundred thousand people to attend.
A disparate lineup of organizations including reproductive health provider Planned Parenthood, gun-control group Moms Demand Action and Emily’s List, which promotes female candidates for office, sent large contingents to the event.
Many participants wore knitted pink cat-eared “pussy” hats, a reference to Trump’s claim in the 2005 video that was made public weeks before the election that he grabbed women by the genitals.
Some Republicans have criticized feminist, gay-rights and other activist groups critical of Trump as resorting to a divisive style of “identity politics.” Democratic US representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, a supporter of the marchers, rejected that assertion.
“It is Donald Trump who singled out Muslims for a Muslim registry. It was Donald Trump who made disparaging comments about women. It was Donald Trump who criticized a judge of Mexican heritage. That’s identity politics. We’re sending the message that we’re all Americans.”
The march spotlights the fierce opposition Trump faces as he takes office, a period that is typically more of a honeymoon for a new president.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump had the lowest favourability rating of any incoming president since the 1970s.
Women gave a host of reasons for marching, ranging from inspiring other women to run for office to protesting Trump’s plans to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which among other things requires health insurers to cover birth control.
Jesse Carlock, 68, a psychologist from Dayton, Ohio was attending her first protest in decades.
“Once Mr. Trump was elected, I decided I needed to get active again, and I hadn’t been since the 60s and 70s,” Carlock said. “I’ve got to stand up and be counted as against a lot of what President Trump is saying...about healthcare, immigration, reproductive rights, you name it.”
Women said they hoped to send a unity message to Trump after a campaign in which he said Mexican immigrants were “rapists,” discussed banning Muslims from entering the United States, and was revealed to have once bragged about grabbing women by the genitals and kissing them without permission.
Trump’s team did not respond to a request for comment about the march.
Celebrities such as the musicians Janelle Monae and Katy Perry – both of whom supported Clinton in the election - are expected to take part in Saturday’s march.
The march organizers said they had extensive security plans in place, and would have both visible and hard-to-spot security workers along the route.