Women’s March on Washington organizers made their first large-scale attempt Wednesday to build on the momentum of their January march, calling on women across the country to skip work and take to the streets to resist the policies of the new presidential administration.
The result was a smaller crowd with a harder-edged concept, which contrasted with the spirit of the earlier march. In the Washington region, the large number of teacher time-off requests prompted public school districts in Alexandria and Prince George’s County to close, along with at least nine charter schools in the District.
In New York, 13 women, including top organizers of the January Women’s March, were arrested as they blocked traffic and made a “human wall” around Trump International Hotel. Elsewhere, the demonstrations were more subdued.
In the nation’s capital, protesters swarmed public spaces in front of the White House, Capitol and Labor Department. From Santa Cruz, Calif., to Chicago to Philadelphia, women held rallies aimed at drawing attention to women’s roles in the labor force and to criticize government actions they view as anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-woman.
“Trump is afraid of us,” yelled Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, at a rally outside the White House. “You know who else should be afraid of us? Any member of Congress who does not respect our rights.”
“Day Without a Woman” coincided with International Women’s Day and sparked conversations about women in the workforce and disparate wages between men and women. The day brought a new edge to a feminist movement that gained steam the day after President Trump’s inauguration, when more than a million people in the District and across the country spilled into the streets.
Many of them wore pink “pussyhats,” a wry reference to a term Trump has used to describe female genitalia, and held cheeky signs to signal their displeasure at the new president’s tone and policies.
If those gatherings had a jubilant feel, the actions Wednesday were decidedly more strident as people were countering policies that have since been implemented or proposed by the Trump administration. In a public park in front of the White House, hundreds of men and women protested the “Mexico City policy,” known by critics as the “global gag rule,” which says that foreign nonprofits providing abortions will forfeit aid from the U.S. government. President Trump reinstated the Reagan-era rule on one of his first days as president.
“Resist Trump, stop the gag,” they chanted.
Since the Women’s March, some conservatives have written off the movement because of its embrace of certain liberal causes, such as abortion rights and Palestinian rights. Some critics felt Wednesday’s strike put a burden on poor women who could least afford a day off work.
Jody Ellenby, a fifth-grade D.C. charter school teacher who skipped work Wednesday, attended two protests and acknowledged that her job, which offers paid leave, allowed her to go on strike with little consequence.
“I hope to stand in solidarity with women who can’t strike today, and I hope to be a voice for women who have seen violence in the past,” Ellenby said. “I am a privileged person, but I hope to use that privilege to stand for others who may not be able to.”
Women who couldn’t join the strike were urged to participate by wearing red — a color that symbolizes “revolutionary love and sacrifice,” organizers said — and spend money at small and female-owned businesses.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerged from the Capitol on Wednesday clad in red and waving a sign, showing support for the strike and urging more women to run for office.
“People would say to me, ‘If you ruled the world, what one thing would you do to make the future better?’ That’s an easy answer: The education of girls,” Pelosi said.
Ruth Gresser, owner of four restaurants in the Washington region, went on strike Wednesday and allowed her female employees to do the same. Half of her menu was available, intended to signify a day without half of the population.
Gresser and several other restaurant owners throughout the region donated some of their profits Wednesday to women’s organizations.
“What I would like to see happen from today is that women recognize our own value,” said Gresser, who owns Pizzeria Paradiso. “I’m saying to the women who work for me, take this day for you, because you have value and the situation you face in the world is different because you are a woman.”
Trump didn’t respond to the protests but tweeted to coincide with International Women’s Day, saying, “I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy.”
Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said in a news briefing that he didn’t believe any women in the White House participated in the strike, but added that “people have the right to express themselves.”
On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of strikers took over a plaza at the entrance to the Labor Department. They filled a wide, empty fountain and did an impromptu, choreographed dance before marching to a nearby park, chanting “resist” and “equal pay for equal work.”
A.J. Verdelle, a D.C. native and creative writing professor at Morgan State University, participated in the White House and Labor Department protests. She carried a sign that read “women count,” featuring science symbols.
“It was a hard decision,” she said of skipping work. “But because the Republicans have Congress and the presidency, people in the streets are our best bet.”