Ninety minutes after Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president last Friday, John Elder found himself swimming against a red tide.
Elder, an Oberlin resident and longtime activist, was walking toward Union Station in Washington, D.C., after participating in an anti-Trump demonstration. Hundreds of Trump supporters in red were walking in the opposite direction. “I hate to say it, but it feels like the good Germans walking by,” said Elder, president of Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy, a local anti-fracking group.
A day later, Elder and his wife, Anne Elder, found themselves in a sea of pink. They participated in the Women’s March on Washington D.C., part of an international repudiation of Trump and his policies.
“It’s much bigger and more focused,” John Elder said. “It’s a movement rather than a party.”
The contrast between Friday and Saturday was striking. Despite Trump’s contention that between 1 million and 1.5 million people participated in the inauguration, crowd size experts put the number at about 150,000, the New York Times
reported. That number included a sizable group of Trump protesters. Experts estimated some 500,000 took part in the Women’s March in Washington and up to 2 million participated in some 600 marches around the U.S. and worldwide, including in Cleveland
There were plenty of seats on the Metro on Friday when the Elders rode in from the D.C. suburb of Greenbelt, Md., where they were staying. On Saturday, the train cars became sardine tins en route to the march.
Applause and cheers erupted from protesters as they exited the train and the line snaked forward. Chants of, “My body! My choice!” and “Black Lives Matter!” were shouted. “Ours is bigger Donnie's,” said a sign noting the crowd disparity between Friday and Saturday.
On the march route, pink pussy hats – a response to Trump’s lewd comment about grabbing women’s vaginas – were the uniform of the day. The crowd was diverse with men and women of all ages and colors unlike the nearly all-white Trump supporters Friday.
Signs called for civil, reproductive and women’s rights as well as environmental and social justice. “Our Rights Are Not Up for Grabs,” said one. “Social Justice, Environment, Gender Equality, Reproductive Rights, We Will Not Go Back,” and “Respect, Not Fear,” said others. Other signs took humorous jabs at Trump. “We Shall Overcomb,” for instance.
The Elders, 1953 Oberlin College graduates, carried signs noting the college’s history of women’s rights. The signs were magnets for Oberlin graduates and students who stopped to speak with the Elders along the march route. They included Andrew Patinkin, a 20-year-old Oberlin College sophomore from Chicago.
Patinkin said he marched to protest Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s attitude about women’s rights and the rights of the LGBT community. Trump has promised to make abortion illegal while Pence in the past has advocated “conversion therapy” for gays.
While Republicans control the White House, House of Representatives and Senate, Patinkin said the march illustrates they don’t have a popular mandate.
“It needs to be shown and it needs to be said that people are not going to tolerate governmental discrimination,” he said. “It shows that the numbers are with this cause and not Trump’s cause despite what Trump might say to the contrary.”
Other marchers included Caitlin Hill and Colleen Traud of Cleveland who carried a “Cleveland Women for Equality” sign as they marched past the Washington Mall.
“You can either sit back and be depressed or you can channel your depression against the (Trump) rhetoric,” said Traud, 36. “We’re trying to stay vigilant and informed and work against his divisive behavior.”
“Donald Trump is a maniac,” said Hill, 29. “He’s probably going to put me in jail for saying that.”
Area marchers said they hoped the march would serve not only as a symbolic denunciation of Trump, but to ignite a political movement against his policies. “I’m hoping it will embolden our [Democratic] senators and representatives,” said Midge Brittingham, 78, of Oberlin.
The Elders, both 84, have deep perspective on protest marches. They marched against segregation in Alabama in 1965 and Anne Elder recalls being tear-gassed in Grant Park in Chicago by police during the riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention.
They hope Saturday’s march will set the tone for an uphill battle against Trump.
“People were polite, and kind and caring,” John Elder said. “The way a society should be.”