Half a million people took over the streets of the nation’s capital on Saturday with millions more women and men marching in cities across the country and around the world in a protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration.
But while the Women’s March on Washington is inextricably tied to Trump, many of the mothers and daughters who traveled from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., say their purpose is deeper than a rejection of the politics and power of the man now in the Oval Office.
For some, like Patti Rieser, 62, of Durham, the march symbolized breaking ground on a new life of political activism.
She watched the waves of people walk along the National Mall with signs decorated with messages of equality for women, African-Americans, immigrants and gay and lesbian people. The crowd shouted for justice and kinder treatment of minorities all of races, religions and backgrounds.
Rieser, a retired nurse practitioner and science writer, said she’d never been in a crowd so large. She admired the energy and graciousness of those who marched – even as the sheer number of people made walking difficult.
“As a woman, I felt assaulted by this election in a physical way that really surprised me,” she said. “I wanted to be a body on the street (Saturday) to say, ‘This is the majority.’”
When she gets back home, she said she hopes North Carolina’s politicians will be inundated with calls from constituents who marched.
Rieser is already a frequent caller to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ office, she said. Tillis is in his first term as the junior Republican senator from North Carolina. Rieser says she cares most about environmental policies, the economy, and equality for LGBT people and African-Americans.
“I call instead of email. I’m actually getting to know some of the staff in Thom Tillis’s office,” Rieser said proudly on Saturday. “That’s a new level for me, and that’s something I will sustain – kind of moving into marathon mode for the next four years.”
Rieser arrived in Washington Saturday morning after joining hundreds of others from North Carolina who bought rides to the march on “rally buses” that left from several major cities around 3 a.m. Her husband Joe Woolley, 66, joined her.
Woolley said he hopes the Women’s March on Washington makes something clear to Trump:
“I see a lot of these, ‘He’s Not My President’ buttons. And, that rubs me wrong,” Woolley said. “He in fact is the president – it’s fantasy to say he’s not. The starting point should be that he is our president and he needs to understand that he must respond to more than just his ... supporters.”
Woolley said climate change is the issue he cares most about but also said wealth inequality and voting rights need attention.
He and Rieser said they didn’t want Trump to win. But, now that Trump has been sworn-in as the 45th president of the United States, the retirees say they’re inspired to become more politically active than they’ve ever been.
Others at the march are just beginning to engage in politics.
The division among parties, candidates and voters almost kept 20-year-old Emma McDonald, of Raleigh, away from the protest.
Many protesters on Saturday held signs mocking Trump – his hair, his body, his hands. Sometimes the crowd chanted blistering, curse-filled tirades. For McDonald, that tactic was hypocritical and counterproductive.
“It’s important to not villainize (Trump) if we want to understand why people did vote for him,” she said. “I know a lot of people who did vote for him who are wonderful people and support (equality). If we say everyone who voted for Trump is racist or bigoted or xenophobic ... We’re kind of putting them into a box.”
McDonald attended Saturday’s march with her mom, Jill McDonald, 52, of Raleigh, who is a nurse.
“Trump has been someone for us to kind of throw our anger toward,” she said, but added there are systemic problems that deeply affect women – which is why she marched.
One such problem, Jill McDonald said, was exposed when a tape surfaced in October 2016 of Trump talking about groping women.
“There’s so much wrong in this society ... (when Trump’s tape) is referred to as ‘locker-room talk’ and that’s acceptable,” she said. “It’s across the board. It’s pervasive. It’s disgusting. It’s obscene the way stuff like that just kind of gets looked over.
“We’ve obviously come a huge way forward as far as women’s rights go ... But there’s been a lot of stuff that’s kind of stayed the same. Maybe it’s not overt, but it’s still there.”