By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger
A sea of homemade political placards and pink knitted hats flooded Montpelier Saturday, Jan. 21, as demonstrators overwhelmed the capital to protest the policies of President Donald Trump.
The local Women’s March drew an estimated crowd of between 15,000 and 20,000 to Montpelier, according to police, making it possibly the largest demonstration ever in the capital.
Well over 500,000 protested in Washington, D.C., at a national event, according to Homeland Security Director Christopher Geldart, as reported by the Associated Press, and there were similar protests organized in all 50 states and countries around the world expressing solidarity in opposition to President Trump’s agenda and support of women’s rights and human rights in general. In total 673 sister marches were held globally, according to womensmarch.com and verifiied by The New York Times and The Washington Post independently, drawing an estimated 4.8 million protester in total.
As Vermonters descended on Montpelier from across the state, traffic backed up for miles, including on Interstate 89, where police closed several exits, including the entrances to Montpelier from both the north and south.
Crowds began gathering at Montpelier High School in the morning, eventually spilling out onto the street. They congregated at the Statehouse, the crowd so large it stretched across the street to the front of the Department of Motor Vehicles and clogged all of State Street, which was closed.
Homemade posters and placards mingled with cloth banners and intricate costumes.
Emily Peterson, 20, and Katherine Hirack, 18, classmates at Johnson State College, drove to the capital to support women’s rights.
“I think it’s really important to be involved, and history, herstory I should say, is happening right before our eyes,” Peterson said.
“We’ve progressed so far, there’s no way we can go back now,” Hirack said. She held a hand-painted sign on cardboard that read “I will not go quietly back into the 1950s.”
The march traveled a short distance — roughly two blocks — to the steps of the Statehouse.
Sue Grigg, 75, of Middlebury, stood on the sidewalk on State Street with her daughter and granddaughter as throngs of marchers chanted “Love not hate, makes America great” — a play on Trump’s campaign slogan.
Grigg’s granddaughter, Emma Olmstead, 17, of East Montpelier, was also with two of her friends. It was the first time the three high school juniors had been at a protest. All three said they worry about the status of women.
“I see it in everyday lives where things aren’t equal, and there needs to be a change,” one said.
Griggs said she believes that women in the country are faring “better than before.” But she fears that women’s rights could be in peril with the changing political winds in Washington.
“I don’t want to see it slip back,” she said. “I want it to carry forward and I see a time where that’s in danger.”
As the tides of marchers arrived on the Statehouse lawn, the band “Dwight and Nicole” performed from the steps. Muslim Girls Making Change, slam poetry team of four Burlington teenagers, elicited a chorus of snaps, applause and cheers as they performed poems that touched on the experience of wearing a hijab, police brutality and more.
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin addressed the crowd, saying that the march called for many initiatives, including respect, equal pay, health care and more. In the next four years, she said, “We will be heard.”
In the wake of the election, some people are “discouraged and puzzled,” Kunin said. “The pendulum has swung so fast from Barack Obama to Donald Trump that we’ve got whiplash.”
“I assure you it will swing back again,” she said.
Ebony Nyoni, who founded Black Live Matter Vermont, raised disparities in pay, work opportunities and health care between white women and women of color.
She also pointed out that many white women in the country voted for Trump for president.
“We must not forget that the needs of women are as diverse as they are, and that our elevation, our freedom is tied up together and wrapped in one pretty bow,” Nyoni said.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made an unscheduled appearance at the podium, the crowd erupted. The junior senator, who won more than 86 percent of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary last year, was the subject of more than a few placards at the rally.
“You know, I have been driving down the interstate for many years. But I have never seen traffic backed up the way it is today,” Sanders said. “And I have never seen more people here at the Statehouse than I’ve seen today.”
Sanders pledged resistance to the Trump administration on women’s rights, immigration issues, racial justice and more.
“Mr. Trump I’ve got bad news for you. You are not going to divide us up by gender, by race, by who we love,” Sanders said. “In fact, your bigotry and your ugliness are going to bring us together in a progressive movement.”
A slew of other speakers took the microphone, including Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington, representatives from Planned Parenthood and Migrant Justice, and more.
Montpelier police described the rally as peaceful and said there were no arrests. Though traffic in and around the city was congested in the early afternoon, it cleared up as the demonstration dispersed later on.
According to Cpl. David Kachajian, the department believed the crowd numbered as high as 20,000 — far exceeding the initial estimates of about 1,500 when the rally was first being organized he said.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a group like this,” he said.
Photo by Thomas Remp