Singer-actress Janelle Monáe said a prayer with her fellow performers before taking the stage to raucous cheers at Saturday’s Women’s March, which drew a gargantuan crowd that packed the National Mall from the streets east of the U.S. Capitol all the way west past 17th Street.
“I want to remind you that it was woman who gave you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was woman that gave you Malcolm X. And according to the Bible, it was a woman who gave you Jesus,” the star of the hit movie Hidden Figures told the boisterous audience, which cheered, chanted and waved signs during a rally that ran for more than four hours before the actual march began. “Embrace the things that make you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable.”
Monae then launched into her social-activist anthem “Hell You Talmbout,” which she began by exhorting the crowd to yell, “Sandra Bland, say her name!” Bland was an African-American woman found dead in a Texas jail days after being pulled over for failing to use her turn signal in July 2015.
The diverse throng that clogged the streets in every direction heading to the National Mall looked and felt very much like the celebratory crowd that came out to hail the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Organizers say there were more than 670 “sister marches” planned all over the country and around the world.
Massive crowds filled many major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, where organizers officially canceled the march part of the program because of crowd sizes, but people walked through that city’s downtown anyway.
In New York City, the march ended near Trump Tower. Entertainer Whoopi Goldberg joined in, telling the crowd: “This is on us. This change is on us.”
There were young people, senior citizens, LBGTQ activists and grinning folk of every color carrying a range of signs reading everything from “Queer Power” to “The World Is Watching” to “Marching for Women: Again.” Marion Thompson drove from Utica, N.Y., carrying a sign that said: “Trump: We Don’t Want You Grabbing Our Cuntry.” [Editor’s note: Yes, that is how she spelled it.]
“I’m embarrassed and scared. I’m embarrassed that he is our president,” Thompson declared. “I didn’t like his inaugural speech. It was very self-centered, and he’s really not going to do anything for us or the people who voted for him. I feel scared because it’s obvious that he’s not for any minority.”
Robert Mitchner, carrying a sign reading “Flint Lives Matter,” says the water crisis that has disproportionately affected low-income residents and people of color in his city of Flint, Mich., has not improved and people are still drinking and bathing themselves and their children in bottled water.
“I’m trying to get Donald Trump out of the White House,” Mitchner says, adding that he worries that Trump’s policies could involve cutting food stamps and other assistance to people who need help. “It will hurt people of color. It’s going to hurt me and my children. It’s going to hurt everyone.”
“I just want his four years to go by really quickly,” says Nicole Solomon, who came from Bowie, Md., with her 16-year-old goddaughter. But she adds that it is not all about President Trump: “I’m marching for women’s rights, period. Being paid the same amount as a man for doing the exact same work. But I don’t think he is for us ... I mean women, I mean black people I mean all of the above.”
Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. was greeted by chants of “Keep hope alive,” the slogan from his 1988 presidential campaign, as he arrived at the backstage area.
“One senses in this crowd a great sense of resistance, which can be felt across the country,” Jackson says. “We know several things. Hillary [Clinton] in this election got the most votes. That should have been enough to win. ... What’s missing from the narrative is the hacking of the black vote in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan.”
Actress America Ferrera kicked off the rally this morning with a rousing speech that brought many in the extremely packed crowd to their feet cheering.
“It’s a heartrending time to be both a women and an immigrant in this country. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday,” Ferrera told the shouting crush of people. “But the president is not America! His Cabinet is not America! Congress is not America! And we are here to stay!”
Veteran activist Gloria Steinem got the few who were sitting down to their feet: “We have people power and we will use it!”
Steinem said that she had never seen such an outpouring of what she called energy and true democracy in her long life. She also took a few jabs at President Trump.
“A Twitter finger must not become a trigger finger,” Steinem said to loud cheers and applause. “Do not try to divide us. If you force the Muslims to register, we will all register.”
Other celebrities seen at the event included Julia Roberts, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Ashley Judd and iconic civil rights leader Angela Davis.
“This is ground zero for the struggle for social justice,” Davis said. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”