Thousands of demonstrators gathered Saturday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and lined the frozen-over Reflecting Pool to rally for women’s rights, urge women to run for public office and call on citizens to fully engage on issues from sexual assault and racial equality to immigrant protections and gun violence.
The Women’s March on Washington was one of many such protests taking place in hundreds of cities and towns across the nation.
People in the crowd were upbeat and blinking into the bright, sunny day, with temperatures soaring into the high 50s. Many said they were encouraged by recent Democratic electoral wins in Alabama, where black women were instrumental in electing the state’s first Democratic senator since 1992, and in Virginia, where a record number of women won state legislative office.
The rally, which took place hours after the government shutdown that began at midnight, was organized to rekindle the activism and civic participation ignited by the massive Women’s March on Washington held the day after President Trump’s inauguration last year. Organizers said they hope to build on efforts that have pushed women’s issues to the forefront during the politically chaotic year since Trump took office.
That message was delivered repeatedly by a number of speakers, including top Democratic leaders, many of whom remained in Washington because of the shutdown.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers on the stage and told the marchers they had “transformed the world.”
“Your truth is never more important than now,” she said.
Pelosi pointed out that many more people had turned out for last year’s march than had attended Trump’s inauguration, and she said the president deserves an F for his first year in office.
Trump, at the White House, weighed in on the marches: “Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March,” he tweeted. “Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”
At the rally, there were few Trump supporters to be found. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, protesters held up a sign that spelled out “Impeach#45” on one side and “Narcissist” on the other. Another carried a sign that referenced a villain and heroine in the Harry Potter series: “When Voldemort is president we need a nation of Hermiones.” Others made the coming fall elections their focus, proclaiming “Blue tsunami coming in 2018” and “Grab ’em by the midterms.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), often mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, also addressed the crowd.
“It is women who are holding our democracy together in these dangerous times,” she said.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) drew cheers when he criticized Republican congressional leaders and Trump. “ I am sure that if Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the president were women, we would not be in the middle of a government shutdown right now,” Beyer said.
“Please run! Run smart! Run hard!” he urged the crowd.
Last year’s march “was a rallying cry for a lot of women who wanted their voices to be heard,” said Emily Patton, a spokeswoman for the Women’s March. “This year, we really want to show support for women who are running for office and to encourage more women, women of color and those in the LGBT community, to run for office, to register to vote, to be more civically engaged.”
Lauren Owensby, 51, a Sterling, Va., mother with five daughters, said she has a “house full of feminists” who have been on fire since Trump was elected. She brought two of her daughters to the march, as well as her mother, “an activist for 60 years.”
The federal contractor said her community went into high gear last year.
“After Trump was elected, you have never seen so many people come out of their suburban doors and say they want to get involved,” she said.
There have been coffees, cocktail parties, letter writing — all aimed at opposing Trump and helping get women and Democrats elected in Virginia.
“Women are working, raising families and resisting,” Owensby said. “We don’t read books. We don’t watch movies anymore. We don’t have any time.”
Dilcia M. Molina held up a sign in Spanish calling for the protection of immigrant women. She is a health program manager at a D.C. clinic that works with immigrants.
“We want to demonstrate that immigrant women have a right to live without violence, without ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] looking for them,” she said. “We all immigrated for some reason, because of violence in our countries, because of poverty.”
Judy Glaven, 57, brought the same “Be Brave Choose Love” poster she marched with last year. It is covered with tape because she has taken it to so many demonstrations over the past year.
“Last year I was in shock and depressed. Now I feel determined. I am going to keep working at this,” said the molecular cell biologist from the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington. She said that since last year’s march, she has met with senators and representatives, organized her neighbors, and gone to dozens of protests. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t do something,” she said.
Victor Udoewa, a technology policy adviser, was changing his daughter’s diaper while his wife got ready to sing with her social-justice a cappella choir for the assembling marchers. He said the last year has been revealing more than anything, and in some positive ways. “People thought we were further along with sexism and racism than we are,” he said.
After the rally at the Lincoln Memorial, many made their way over to Lafayette Square in front of the White House, where impromptu protests continued.
Saturday’s rally felt quieter and calmer than last year’s, but not everything went smoothly. A number of frustrated marchers found that the public restrooms near the Reflecting Pool were closed. A note posted by the National Park Service explained that this was due to the shutdown.
There were also a few showdowns between marchers and antiabortion protesters, who held up large photos showing aborted fetuses and advertised numbers to call for women facing a crisis pregnancy. Abortion rights activists stood in front of the protesters or blocked their messages with anti-Trump signs.
Washington was the focus of last year’s Women’s March, with hundreds of thousands of protesters filling the streets of the capital. Some of the larger marches held Saturday were in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Charlotte and New York.
One of the biggest events will take place Sunday in Las Vegas, where a concerted effort is being made to push for voter registration. Democrats are eyeing the U.S. Senate race in swing state Nevada, where incumbent Dean Heller (R) is considered vulnerable and first-term Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) is a leading challenger. The Las Vegas rally will also focus on gun violence and sexual assault and is expected to include speeches by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, actress Marisa Tomei and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Kayla Epstein and Erin Logan contributed to this report.