The crowd was small and fatigued after a late night of protests in the District that kept many demonstrators out into the early hours of the morning.
Marchers were urged to sing and chant as they walked, carrying flags, homemade signs and a papier-mâché rendering of a billionaire with a money bag for a head holding a check made out to Fox News.
“We are here to fight what we know is an attack on democracy,” said organizer Aura Angélica with the youth-led Sunrise Movement, an activist group focused on climate change and social justice.
The march made its first stop outside the D.C. headquarters of Fox News, where protesters chanted, “Trump lies, democracy dies!”
The midday demonstration, organized by the Shutdown DC coalition, brought together activists from more than 10 groups with different missions.
But Ashley Dorelus, a Black filmmaker from New York, balked at the makeup of the crowd, which had few Black protesters.
She said she was frustrated that at a march about democracy, no mention of race was made — even as Trump’s calls to halt vote counts would disproportionately affect the votes of Black Americans.
“This feels performative to me,” she said. “They’re not here for Black people, for democracy.”
Outside the Republican National Committee, protesters faced a line of police and began to chant, “Count every vote! Every vote counts!”
Demonstrators said the GOP has been complicit with the president’s campaign of misinformation — about the ongoing pandemic and about the validity of the presidential election.
“They profit from his exploitation of the American people,” Frank Santos Fritz, an organizer with D.C.’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, told the group. “Trump has never won the popular vote. We remember that. And now he’s trying to rig the electoral [college].”
Organizers told the crowd the election would not be decided “for weeks, maybe months,” and that activists must remain vigilant to “protect our democracy.”
As they chanted at the building, several demonstrators shook maracas and drummed the tops of overturned buckets.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, compared the Republican effort to cast doubt on the election results in several contested states to actions by authoritarian leaders in other countries.
“Hypocrites,” the crowd chanted.
“The cheating has already happened,” Benjamin said. “The cheating happened with gerrymandering. The cheating happened with the long lines to vote.”
At McPherson Square, a quiet crowd gathered Wednesday afternoon to demand a full vote count in the race for the presidency. Toddlers hoisted handmade signs above their heads, a group of veterans stood in silent protest, and community activists delivered speeches from a stage.
Every so often, musicians performed beneath a Jumbotron that read “COUNT THE VOTES,” transforming the crowd of about 100 into a sort of democratic park concert.
“It’s not enough to invite people into democracy to kick them out of it,” Tyson Hobson-Powell, founder and director of policy at Concerned Citizens DC, told the crowd. He later urged the group to continue mobilizing for justice after Trump leaves office, echoing the cautious optimism of many of the event’s left-leaning speakers. “Racism did not start with Donald Trump, and it will not end with his departure,” he said.
Steven Kiernan, a 33-year-old Marine veteran, traveled from Eugene, Ore., to make sure every vote is counted in this year’s presidential election, which he called the most important of his lifetime.
“We all served to protect the Constitution and rights of all Americans,” he said, surrounded by members of the liberal veterans group Common Defense.
For Jaya Blaser, the gathering at McPherson Square was an outing. The 7-year-old from Arlington stayed up past her bedtime on Election Day, filling in a color-coded map as the election results came in.
“Donald Trump is not a good president and is saying that he won’t count every vote,” she said, snacking on a clementine and crackers. “That’s not good.”
As the afternoon stretched into evening, the rally turned into a watch party with CNN blasting on the screen.
Many nearby buildings remained boarded-up in anticipation of unrest that failed to materialize. Hundreds gathered late Tuesday and early Wednesday for a carnivallike watch party and protest that were at times tense but mostly peaceful.
By morning, international news outlets were setting up for live shots at nearby Black Lives Matter Plaza. The protesters were gone, and sidewalks were littered with abandoned helmets and crates of spray paint near a black fence covered with protest signs.
The cordoned-off White House was barely visible, a fact that frustrated passersby who bent and craned to take photos over the signs that bore messages such as “loser” and “end fascism.”
Just before 9 a.m., a man on a bicycle slowed as he passed the fence encircling the White House. He took in the scene, read the messages and observed the assembled reporters.
Before kicking off again, he chuckled, then bellowed:
“Good morning, Donald!”
Mela, 19, and Amara, 21, who declined to give their last names, came to the plaza to “see the aftermath” of a night of protest and nail-biting anxiety.
They had been at the watch party at McPherson Square, bundled against the cold, nervously watching the results roll in until about 3 a.m.
Mela, who voted this year in her first election in Virginia, said she has been “especially engaged in politics. Way more than I ever have been before.”
She posed for a photo in front of the wall of protest art as Amara framed her with the Washington Monument in the distance.
She had helped to reassemble the display after conservative activists tore down signs that had been up since the summer. She said she wanted to memorialize the moment, and the protests, “just in case they’re not here for much longer.”
Fredrick Kunkle contributed to this report.