But they kept going — down the steps, into the street, past the Washington Monument and, eventually, into Lafayette Square across from the White House — along with thousands of others who gathered for the fourth annual Women’s March on Washington.
Women across the country sent a final rebuke to President Trump before the 2020 presidential election. Though organizers have for weeks tried to put three main issues at the center of the march — climate change, immigration and reproductive rights — Saturday’s protest remained very much about the man in the White House.
But many women said this year’s march took on a new tone. Instead of feeling angry, fearful or devastated by Trump’s ascent to the presidency, demonstrators said they felt something new: hope.
“I remember being at the first Women’s March and I started crying while we were chanting,” said Emily Anderson, 24, a District resident who brought her dog, Yogi. “But today feels really different. It’s more hopeful. I think that tells you a lot about how far we’ve come.”
The Women’s March burst into the national consciousness in 2017, when it inspired millions to take to the streets in Washington and across the globe. On Saturday, the annual feminist demonstration drew thousands to the nation’s capital, as well as to hundreds of cities around the country, including New York, Los Angeles and Denver in demonstrations that organizers said was the beginning of the group’s 2020 efforts.
More than 70 buses from states such as Alabama, Nebraska and Pennsylvania brought activists to the rally, Women’s March officials said. Many said the upcoming election compelled them to come to Washington this year.
“This is the last Women’s March we’re going to need because Trump is going to be gone by this time next year,” said Joann Edmunds, 69, a Roanoke resident who attended the march with three friends. “Once he’s out of office, there won’t be the same need for it.”
Despite organizers insisting Saturday’s rally would feature neither speakers nor a stage, the march kicked off with both.
As flakes of snow began to fall and temperatures hovered near 30 degrees, Martin Luther King III took the stage to introduce his wife, humanitarian and activist Arndrea Waters King. She reminded the crowd that 2020 marks 100 years since women earned the right to vote. And this weekend is one that also honors the legacy of her late father-in-law and civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Remembering is not enough,” she said. “We must see this march as a time of rededication and renewal. . . . This can be the decade that ushers in new freedom.”
Throngs carried signs that read “Ratify the ERA now” or “See you at the voting booth,” while others held up images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The right to vote was top of mind for many in the crowd who honored the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage with signs, suffragist costumes and sashes.
“It’s been 100 years and we’re still fighting — we don’t have equal rights,” said Nancy Railey, 59, of Garrett County, Md., who dressed as a suffragist for the occasion and carried a sign that read “Another 100 years?”
A pair of sisters, Paula Beaty, 55, and Elizabeth Beaty, 61, of Arizona and North Carolina, respectively, said they spent two hours Friday standing in front of the White House in suffragist regalia as men shouted questions at them.
“They asked us why we were out there and said things like, ‘Women here have it better than anywhere else in the world, be grateful,’ ” Elizabeth Beaty said. “It made me think how the women who fought for the right to vote stood out there for two years — we did it for two hours and that was tough.”
Waves of women from Virginia cheered lawmakers’ vote earlier in the week to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
“It’s really cool to be able to come here and say, ‘Look, we’re making progress; we got this done,’” said Theresa Quitto-Dickerson, 37, who attended the march with her wife of 16 years, Gin-I Dickerson, 43. The couple, from Loudoun County, helped to lobby for the ERA.
Other issues, including environmental protection, international conflict and transgender rights, were on display at rallies around the country.
In New York, pink hats dotted Columbus Circle as marchers carried signs with pro-woman and anti-Trump slogans.
The demonstrations, though smaller in some cities than in previous years, brought together longtime marchers and new demonstrators, including student activists who said the upcoming election inspired them to participate.
Linda Salzer, 56, of Cambridge, N.Y., traveled more than two hours to New York City to participate.
“The movement that started in 2017 got me riled up,” she said, adding that she had since joined the League of Women Voters and other women’s activist groups.
In Los Angeles, thousands of women demonstrated at Pershing Square and Grand Park. Organizers, who coined the theme “Women Rising,” for years have sought to separate themselves from the national Women’s March organization, but they collaborated on Saturday.
Hundreds of participants carried wire hangers wrapped in pink paper with the #noban hashtag on one side and “Warning: this is not a surgical instrument” on the other.
Graphic designer Robin McCarthy said she felt motivated to design the hangers after antiabortion “heartbeat bills” were passed around the country. She and two friends brought thousands to hand to demonstrators.
“They’re an awful but visceral reminder,” she said, “and that’s what we want.”
At rallies in the District and New York, small groups of antiabortion activists lined the march route and shouted at demonstrators. Protesters blocked them with their signs and chanted, “My body, my choice.”
Activists said one of the march’s most powerful moments came outside the White House, as Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis led a performance of “Un Violador en Tu Camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), a feminist protest anthem that excoriates patriarchal rule, rape culture and violence against women.
Chanting in English and Spanish, the women pumped their fists and tapped their feet as they moved to the beat of drums. Many wore blindfolds, a symbol used by feminist movements around the globe.
“I just yelled at the top of my lungs in front of the White House,” shouted Yara Travieso, 33. “In Spanish!”
Trump, however, wasn’t in Washington to hear the protesters. The president departed Friday for his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was spending the weekend.
Protesters marched past Freedom Plaza, their scheduled dispersal point, and toward the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where the group broke into another round of the feminist chant.
Though the group had thinned, an all-female drum line at the front of the march kept those present dancing through the street.
The decision to have drummers — instead of celebrities or board members — lead the march was one of several changes made to rebuild relationships with disaffected activists.
Some Jewish women remained wary of the organization because of delays in removing former board members accused of anti-Semitism. But others said they felt compelled to give the group another chance.
Outside the Trump International Hotel, marchers broke into song and dance, beating drums and clapping hands to the beat of the Chilean protest chant. The rain had lifted, and the snow had stopped.
As police cars blocked traffic, the group said in unison: “It’s the cops, it’s the judges, it’s the system, it’s the president.”
The crowd burst into cheers, women pointing at Trump’s gold-plated name as they shouted together, “The rapist is you!”
Vera Haller in New York and Mia Nakaji Monnier in Los Angeles contributed to this report.