Washington – They came from Atlanta, Athens, Savannah. Many were lifelong activists. Some said they had never done anything like this before.
The Georgians streamed from hotels, from overnight buses, from cramped condo couches and from friends’ homes in far-flung Washington suburbs to join the estimated 500,000 for the Women’s March on Washington.
They listened to one speaker after another who criticized President Donald Trump – and urged them to take action – a day after the Republican was inaugurated. But they weren’t there for the speakers and the red-meat they tossed out. They were there, they said, to take a stand against a president who has insulted women and refused to embrace the issues they care most about.
“We’ve been marginalized. We’ve been ignored. We’ve been told to prepare for a Supreme Court chock full of conservatives,” said Ginger Nix, who journeyed to Washington from Athens with her 13-year-old daughter. “And we’re fed up with it.”
She was part of a public outpouring of frustration that manifested in chants, in signs and in the throngs of people who descended on the National Mall. Crowds seemed denser than at Trump’s inauguration on Friday, and aerial shots showed masses of people across town.
Many were like Kathy Steele, a political newcomer who came from Tucker on Friday to march with the protesters. She called her role in the march a “first step” in political involvement – and a first strike at Trump’s new presidency the day after he inhabited the White House.
“Trump just can’t seem to take the heat,” he said. “I’m so worried about how thin his skin is.”
That was one of the reasons Tonya Thornton also made the trek to Athens. She hoped that the huge group of demonstrators arrayed near the White House – the peels of chants could be heard from Trump’s new residence – would send a message to the new president.
“Trump and his administration don’t really care about us. And if anything they are going to set us back,” she said. “If Obama had tweeted about everyone who insulted him, everyone would have gone crazy.”
One after another, the speakers cast about for a silver lining in Trump’s victory, and said they found it in the protest group – mostly women, mostly white. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem told them it was an “upside of the downside.”
“This is an outpouring of democracy like I’ve never seen in my very long life,” the 82-year-old said.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump’s vanquished opponent, was not there in person. But she, too, sent a Twitter message thanking the demonstrators for “standing, speaking & marching for our values.”
“I truly believe we’re always stronger together,” she added.
As the protest wound down, many said they would heed the message to stay involved when they returned to Georgia. Veronica Kessenich, who booked her airfare to Washington days after Trump’s victory, said the protest stoked new political fires.
“It feels amazing and empowering,” said Kessenich, who runs the Atlanta Contemporary arts nonprofit. “And I think a lot of people are first-time activists, protesters and champions of change.”
One of them was Maya Smith, an Athens teenager who came with her mom. She smirked when asked whether Trump’s election has kindled a newfound senses of political activism.
“Politics are obnoxious,” Smith said. “But I want to make a difference.”
More on the Women’s March on Washington and Atlanta: