They came from Minneapolis and St. Paul, Wayzata and Mankato, joining Americans from around the country to clog the streets of the nation’s capital after the inauguration of Donald Trump to send him a message.
If the protest signs were any indication — “Build a wall around Donald,” “Obamacare saved my life,” “this pussy grabs back” — they wanted to send a lot of messages.
But the protesters at Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington — which attracted over half a million people of all genders — chiefly wanted the new president and his supporters to know: They’re angry, and they’re not planning to go away.
If Friday’s inauguration was a movement moment for Trump supporters, as Barack Obama’s was for his supporters in 2009, Saturday’s march was perhaps a Tea Party moment for Trump’s foes, a galvanizing event leaving them energized and talking about concrete steps to oppose the president’s agenda.
‘We came to be counted’
For those who traveled from Minnesota to Washington, it wasn’t about justifying the trip — it was about justifying not making it.
When Noreen Buhmann and her daughter Elizabeth, from Minneapolis, got word that the march was happening, they didn’t think about it for a minute. “We booked flights and got a room. There was no question,” Noreen said.
Both said they had never seen anything like the demonstration that unfolded on Saturday.
Recalling her experience protesting in the 1960s and 1970s, Noreen said, “I never thought in my age group we’d still have to be in the streets,” as she and her daughter took a break from marching outside of the National Archives building on the Mall. “I haven’t seen anything like this, haven’t seen this probably, ever.”
Elizabeth said it was an incredible scene: “I finally feel good for the first time since Trump got elected about the community … especially compared to yesterday and how few people showed up for the inauguration.”
After marching, Noreen planned to attend an environmental advocacy gathering in D.C. sponsored by groups including the Sierra Club. She said so much is under threat with Trump’s presidency that each person needs to find “that one thing that you can be a part of and educate and write letters.”
Others are putting that energy into direct pressure on members of Congress. Lynne Gehling traveled to Washington from Wayzata, along with her daughter. After the election, she became a part of a group called Indivisible Minnesota, which aims to stand up to Trump’s agenda by cribbing the Tea Party’s agenda of putting relentless pressure on lawmakers and scrutinizing their every move.
Gehling, who lives in the district represented by Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, says her group is planning to flood him with calls and questions.
“We’re going to be asking Erik Paulsen, we wanna know what you’re going to do to keep health care affordable,” she said.
“No Minnesota nice. We’re going to be in his face.”
Minnesotans from bluer districts showed up too. John Schomaker, from St. Paul, stood on the side of a street full of marchers, holding up a Minnesota state flag.
“For me, living in a blue district, everyone who represents me represents my values,” he said. “I can donate money but it feels like I need to come here to be a part of it.”
“We came to be counted.”
Members of Congress on the march
Rep. Tim Walz doesn’t usually find himself in Washington on a Saturday. But there he was on this unusual Saturday, walking down from his office on Capitol Hill to join the marchers.
The Democratic congressman from Mankato might be one of a few to participate in both Trump’s inauguration and Saturday’s demonstration against it.
“Yesterday I talked about celebrating the democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, and now you’ve got people out here expressing their First Amendment rights,” Walz said. “I’m excited to be here. … The message is much more positive, which I like.”
As the crowds progressed down the National Mall, Walz, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, struck up conversations with people, at one point thanking a woman who was displaying a pro-Obamacare sign. He asked her to call her representatives to pressure them to keep the law in place. “Make it uncomfortable for them,” he said.
Walz, who watched his party relegated to the minority in the House and Senate over the last six years, wants to see the march’s grass-roots energy translated into political action, which conservatives so successfully did after Obama was elected.
“Over the last six years, I’d have loved to see this,” Walz said, taking in the crowds. “What you’re seeing here, these folks aren’t going to go home and quit, they’re gonna go home and take that message.”
Though the march was an opportunity to vent anger and frustration at Trump’s rise to power, many marchers remarked often at the positive energy and sense of community at such a massively attended event.
Walz said the march reflected “a vision of America where we’re all-inclusive, and I think that needs to be heard.”
Mothers and daughters together
A common sight on Saturday was mothers and daughters together — women who protested in their younger days alongside daughters who may have found themselves in the streets for the first time.
“It was wonderful to see Gloria Steinem up there,” Noreen said, referencing the feminist icon who spoke to the crowds on Saturday. “It is equally wonderful to be hand-in-hand with millennials.”
Gehling recalled getting emotional at the thought of participating in history with her daughter.
“My mom would have died to see Hillary elected,” she said. “But she would have been so proud to see her granddaughter here.”