Wake County

Raleigh Women’s March called an unexpected ‘phenomenon’

2017 women’s march in Raleigh drew thousands in solidarity with DC march

Thousands of women marched in downtown Raleigh's City Plaza on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 showing solidarity with a mass march scheduled in Washington, D.C. One year later, "Rally on Raleigh" will be held Saturday on Halifax Mall.
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Thousands of women marched in downtown Raleigh's City Plaza on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 showing solidarity with a mass march scheduled in Washington, D.C. One year later, "Rally on Raleigh" will be held Saturday on Halifax Mall.

Some marchers had to wait an hour for their turn to walk down Fayetteville Street.

And the parade stopped some drivers on Blount Street for nearly as long.

But otherwise, city police and organizers of the Women’s March on Raleigh gave positive reviews of Saturday’s event downtown, where thousands of people raised their voices and homemade signs to protest President Donald Trump for his treatment of women and minorities, as well as discriminatory policies at the state and federal level.

“It was a very orderly demonstration. There were no issues,”said Jim Sughrue, city police spokesman. “They peaceably assembled and exercised their First Amendment rights. No charges resulted.”

Organizers expected 5,000 people to gather at City Plaza and walk the sidewalks to Moore Square. Instead, a crowd that organizers estimated at 20,000 marched up Fayetteville and east on Martin Street to Moore Square without much trouble. The only problem: It took more than an hour for all the participants to march that 0.3 miles to Moore Square.

That’s a lot longer than organizers expected, said Jen Ferris, director of reproductive advocacy for Progress NC, a liberal nonprofit advocacy group.

We started marching at 10:20 (a.m.) and at 11:20, I was getting texts from people at the back of the line asking, ‘When are we gonna start marching?’

Jen Ferris, of Progress NC

“We started marching at 10:20 (a.m.) and at 11:20, I was getting texts from people at the back of the line asking, ‘When are we gonna start marching?’” Ferris said.

That meant police had to stop traffic on southbound Blount Street, which marchers crossed on their way to Moore Square. Traffic was stopped for so long that some drivers got out of their cars.

“Most of the people were getting out to observe or photograph the event, and that didn’t pose a problem, because everyone was back in their cars and ready to go by the time Blount Street traffic was allowed to move again,” Sughrue said.

It’s unclear exactly how many people showed up for the march. The Raleigh Police Department doesn’t provide crowd size estimates, Sughrue said.

“It’s very difficult to estimate the size of a crowd in a large open area,” he said. “Unless you’ve got a gate people are passing through, it’s really hard to be accurate.”

Some volunteers had training in measuring crowd sizes, said Anna Grant, a 28-year-old who’s been active in political organizing for eight years.

“The low I’ve heard is 17,000 and the high estimate is 30,000, so we’re going with 20,000,” Grant said.

Estimates aside, Sughrue described the event as a “phenomenon” due to its unexpected size and how “neither the organizers, the police, the media, nor anyone else had a completely similar event on which to base expectations and planning.”

Organizers like La-Mine (pronounced La-mean) Perkins, a-34-year-old mom who lives in Fuquay-Varina, credited the police department for its customer service.

“They were amazing to work with. They worked really hard to keep the lines of communication open. It’s so key,” Perkins said. “They were very responsive and accessible. They gave me a sense of comfort going into Saturday and, given the outcome, I know the confidence was not misplaced.”

Perkins said she got involved because she’s worried about keeping her son, who’s a senior in high school, on her health insurance plan after he goes to college. A month or so ago, she expected to be one of only a few hundred people involved. But the count got higher and higher as Trump’s Inauguration Day approached.

“Within two weeks, it was clear it would be closer to about 3,000,” Perkins said. “Then, in the last week, we started talking to the police captain almost daily.”

By Friday, more than 10,000 people used Facebook to confirm their attendance for Saturday. But organizers didn’t expect that many, and put only 5,000 on their picketing permit when they filed it on Friday.

“The general rule (for planning marches) is that only half of the people who say they’re going actually turn up,” Grant said. “So that’s why we were predicting 5,000 to 7,000.”

Things went smoothly despite the miscalculation, said City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“The city was obviously well-prepared. I haven’t heard any complaints, only compliments,” she said. “This was a positive expression of many people’s fears and concerns. It was well-organized, peaceful and passionate.”

Thousands of women, men and children filled the streets of downtown Raleigh on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president. The march was one of hundreds in cities around the country, showing sol

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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