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Protesters gather in US cities for Women’s March

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Washington and other major US cities in one of the biggest US political demonstrations in recent memory and a stark rebuke to Donald Trump at the start of his presidency.

More than half a million protesters are estimated to have descended on the US capital to take part in the Women’s March on Washington, according to event organisers, with more than 2m additional demonstrators taking part in satellite protests around the globe.

In Washington, hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors thronged the capital in a march that began with a rally near the US Capitol and then snaked its way to the White House, while thousands of other demonstrators spilled out from the main route, clogging most of the downtown area.

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Outside Washington, organisers staged over 100 sister protests in cities across the US, including New York, San Francisco and Boston, as well as dozens of international protests, everywhere from Melbourne to London, Mexico City to Paris.

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In Chicago the rally was so huge organisers were forced to abandon the march portion of the event, although most continued to protest peacefully through the blocked-off downtown streets.

In a hastily arranged press conference on Saturday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the protests, instead criticising the media for its coverage of the president’s inauguration and accusing them of misreporting the attendance numbers.

Mr Spicer said there were no official estimates on Friday’s inaugural crowds, but then asserted that more people had watched the event than any previous inauguration.

The rebuke from the White House to the press for its coverage of the first days of the Trump presidency came after the organisers of the Women’s March on Washington said they hoped Saturday’s demonstration would go down as one of the biggest political marches in DC history, laying the groundwork for a long-term civic movement to fight against any actions by the new administration that could curb the rights of women and minorities.

In Washington, throngs of protesters began gathering in early morning, most carrying homemade signs, and sporting pink hats with cat ears — a reference to some of Mr Trump’s lewd comments about women that surfaced during the campaign.

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Among those on the street in DC were leading figures of the women’s rights movement, including Gloria Steinem, as well as John Kerry, the former secretary of state, and Hollywood celebrities including Madonna, actress Scarlett Johansson and comedian Amy Schumer. Democratic senators, including Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, also took part in the demonstrations.

“When we elect a possible president, we too often go home,” Ms Steinem told the crowd to cheers. “We’ve elected an impossible president. We’re never going home. We’re staying together and we’re taking over.”

“It seems as though we all slipped into a false sense of comfort, that justice would prevail and that good would prevail in the end,” Madonna said in a separate address. “Well, good did not win this election. But good will win in the end. So what today means is that we are far from the end. Today marks the beginning; the beginning of our story. The revolution starts here.”

The DC metro system reported that 275,000 trips had been taken on the DC metro by 11am on Saturday morning — a volume eight times the normal level. On Friday morning, the day of Mr Trump’s inauguration, just 193,000 rides were taken, it said.

In Washington, demonstrators booed and shouted “Shame!” as they passed by the Trump International Hotel. But overall the protest remained peaceful, unlike Friday when pockets of scuffles broke out between demonstrators and police.

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Hillary Clinton endorsed the march on Twitter. “Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values @womensmarch. Important as ever. I truly believe we’re always Stronger Together,” she said in a statement.

Protesters held placards with slogans such as “Stop the War on Women” and “Hands Off Our Democracy”. 

Protesters at the Women’s March in New York © FT

On social media, women shared photos and videos of buses, aeroplanes and trains, all filled with protesters coming down to the march — some from hours away.

Sharon Abee, 60, from South Carolina travelled with friends on a bus overnight. “We feel very strongly that we want this new government to know we care about our rights, the rights of minorities and the rights of people who cannot speak for themselves so we are out here putting a voice to our concerns,” she said.

“The last month or so things have come together more,” she said. “People are speaking with one voice more.”

“This is an appalling time in America. This man is appalling,” said Judy Thoms, who had travelled to DC from New York with her daughter, a schoolteacher. “But seeing so many people travel to Washington for the rally, gave reason to hope,” she said. “It’s like being super heroes in a comic going after the evil force.”

According to the Women’s March on Washington organisers, 673 women’s marches took place across the world, with 29 demonstrations in Canada and 20 in Mexico, and even two in the Antarctic peninsula. 

In Chicago, police were handed short-stemmed pink roses as the crowd chanted and cheered, holding signs that ranged from light-hearted jabs (“Free Melania”; “We Shall Overcomb”) to political slogans in support of Planned Parenthood, universal healthcare and broader human rights.

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Sue Law and Christine Bennett, who had marched against the Vietnam war a few decades earlier, said they were protesting for their daughters and granddaughters as they felt that policies promised by both President Trump and the Republican party were taking the country backwards instead of forward.

“The rally is the place where we can bring attention to our concerns. It’s important to be committed. It feels that there are some men who are afraid of women,” Ms Law said. “We can’t solve these problems on a Democratic and Republican divide, we have to find a way to unite and find common ground on issues.”

Via FT