WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Wearing strings of bright LED Christmas lights around their necks so they could find each other if they got separated, Elizabeth Smiley and Suzie Barton joined about 1,200 others in a protest march in West Palm Beach on Saturday night, hoping to show Donald Trump and his Mar-a-Lago guests that many Americans don’t agree with the way he’s running the country.
“So much of what he’s doing is scary for so many people,” said Smiley, 55, a social worker in Palm Beach County. “We can’t just sit back and let it happen without saying something. This is all about making sure our voices are heard.”
It’s unclear whether Trump actually heard any of their messages. Ensconced in the ballroom of his Palm Beach estate, he and his guests could have easily missed the entire march, which strung out along the waterfront Flagler Drive across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago and stretched across a half-mile bridge to Palm Beach. It was Trump’s first trip as president to what he calls the “winter White House,” and it fell on the same weekend as the annual Red Cross Ball. More than 500 guests were expected to attend the gala, the annual highlight of the Palm Beach social scene. Trump has attended the charity event often over the past 20 years.
But the sprawling complex is walled off from the public streets. Guests being chauffeured to and from the ball may have passed the march but otherwise, they would have missed it entirely.
“Saw some at the south gate,” one Mar-a-Lago guest said. “No big deal.”
Carrying glowsticks, flashlights and even light-up hula hoops, protesters chanted as they walked toward Trump’s beachfront property. Several dozen Trump supporters chanted back, but the rally, which stretched over two miles, was peaceful, according to West Palm Beach police spokesman Sgt. David LaFont.
The march was originally supposed to stop before the bridge that leads from the mainland to Palm Beach. But when protesters Sarah-Helen Land and her wife, who were at the front of the march, got to that spot, nobody stopped them.
“So we just kept on walking,” Land said. “And here we are, chanting and singing and letting Trump know that we’re not going to sit still. We’ve come too far to go back.”
Many marchers said that even if the wealthy guests at the ball did not notice them, it felt good to be part of the protest anyway.
“The feeling of solidarity and shared purpose means a lot these days,” said Lea Brown, a pastor and Land’s wife. “There have been a lot of marches, but this is just the beginning. When will we get tired of marching? Never.”
Dozens of officers from the Palm Beach Police Department, Secret Service agents and deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, including a line of officers in riot gear, greeted Brown and the other marchers at the back gate of Mar-a-Lago.
“If you stay on that side of the road, you’ll be fine,” Palm Beach public safety director Kirk Blouin said through a megaphone to the crowd. “Cross the road, and you’ll be arrested.”
Sandy and Johnny Kaye stood outside the gates, chanting with the rest of the crowd.
“Maybe they can’t hear everything we’re saying if they’re in the ballroom right now,” Sandy Kaye said, “but I’m pretty sure they’re going to have to turn the music up louder to drown us out.”