PORTLAND, Ore. — One day after Donald J. Trump took the oath as the 45th president of the United States, over 600 coordinated marches took place across the country and the globe as the largest political protest in the history of the nation. In Portland, an estimated 100,000 people saturated its downtown streets.
Slogging through rain and mud, a mass of protestors, umbrellas, and signs enveloped the Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a rally before surging onto a one-mile marching route through downtown Portland on Saturday, Jan. 21.
The idea for these marches sparked in November as the Women’s March on Washington, a protest in direct response to the impeding Trump presidency. Beginning as a call to action to protect the human rights that protest participants feel the Trump campaign threatened, the idea jumped like sparks of a wildfire from city to city.
The effort launched to instill a veracious political message in the ears of the new administration; a message that the people would unite to defend the human and political rights of the nation’s most marginalized minorities. It was amplified by 3.6 to 4.6 million people marching in more than 500 cities within in the United States, unmistakable and deafening.
“Women’s rights are human rights!” the crowds chanted.
In Washington, D.C., an estimated one million people marched.
The Women’s March has been compared to the Occupy movement of 2011 for incorporating a multitude of movements and messages into its fold. These include women’s rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, health care rights, reproductive rights, immigration rights, and LGBTQ+ rights.
The marches ride the most recent crest of a century-long wave of feminism, crashing upon the shores of the modern era, where uplifting the most oppressed voices is a responsibility of all people and a necessity for a better world, according to event organizers.
“I’m helping to organize this march because often the voices of those who are underprivileged and marginalized are co-opted and/or ignored by the greater forces, whether liberal or Republican,” said Rebekah Brewis, the executive legal director of PDX Trans Pride, the organization which fiscally sponsored the event.
PDX Trans Pride aims to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in the community, according to Brewis.
“It’s wonderful; we’re coming together more on a mental and spiritual basis,” said Brewis. “The lens through which we look at the world is really important, and we need to look at the voices that are usually opressed.”
The march drew crowds from all over Oregon and Washington, including members of the OSU, LBCC, Albany, and Corvallis communities.
“We’re pushing for fair and equitable rights and living for all, not just those who can afford it,” said Amber Ahlgren, vice president for labor union sub-local 083 at Oregon State University, which includes over 1500 members of the SEIU classified staff.
Ahlgren helped organized two school buses to Portland, bringing about 120 local people to the march, including students groups, OSU staff and faculty, and Corvallis community members.
“I think all too often people get comfortable with their current positions, and they’re just used to having certain benefits, while others still haven’t even gained the benefits that they’re happy to have,” said Ahlgren. “So I think it’s very important we’re working together to raise all people, because when we raise everyone we are all moving forward together.”
Only 30,000 to 50,000 were expected march Saturday in Portland, but twice the amount showed up.
“I was in shock — I didn’t expect to see so many people,” said Cynthia de la Torre, LBCC student and president of the Our Revolution club. “It was very beautiful to be a part of. It feels like it’s a historical moment in its own way because this reaction generated so much movement and solidarity.”
De la Torre marched to resist what she described as the fascism and tyranny of President Donald Trump.
“Everyone feels afraid or attacked or invalidated, and I hope this brings us together in a way that no march ever did, and validates our experiences and existence as women,” said de la Torre.
A low-income college student, de la Torre says she has grave political concerns regarding her access to affordable healthcare and tuition.
“As a Latina brown girl, immigration is part of my identity and it’s frustrating to wonder what the next four years will bring me, the undocumented community, and immigrants as a whole,” she said.
Margaret Jacobsen, a Portland poet, writer and activist took over planning the march in early January, after a pervasive lack of inclusiveness of people of color and other diverse groups threatened the march’s success.
“Planning it [Portland Women’s March] has been crazy and hard and a lot of work,” said Jacobsen. “But now seeing all of these people gathering despite the rain, despite how cold it is, is powerful. It gives me a lot of hope.”
Jacobsen ensured that the speakers at the rally were comprised mostly of women of color, honoring the diversity of the American people. Portland DJ Anjali Hursh was included as a performer, and the crowds danced and stomped in mud to her Bollywood Bhangra beats.
“I’m honored to share my music. I feel like music can be so political. It’s subversive but also a subtle way to be political, and you know like having signs and screaming your opinion is good, but it’s also good to express in other ways, to kind of seep in with a message,” said Hursh.
She recognized the vital importance of inclusivity in the success of Saturday’s marches.
“We can’t just rest on our old ’60s laurels; we need to make sure that we’re embracing younger generations, because they’re our future. They’re going to be the leading example for the next several generations,” said Hursh.
Although the march remained peaceful, there were several imperfections.
As women of color spoke at the rally, a sea of thousands of voices interrupted the speakers, chanting, “Let us march!”
The peaceful Portland Women’s March came just one day after thousands of Inauguration Day protesters clashed with police, resulting in some violence and the use of tear gas and mace on the crowds.
“We love when people have organized marches; they communicate with us, we set up a route and everybody can just follow what’s going on,” said Portland police officer Michael Roberts. “It’s a great expression of the Constitution.”
However, Jacobsen feels that protests playing by the rules of an oppressive authority will never be enough to affect real change.
“Now the city and the police are using our march as this example of a ‘peaceful’ protest. Saying that this is the RIGHT way to protest, but we all know that’s bullshit,” said Jacobsen. “We know that so many of those people who came out yesterday will return back to their normal lives tomorrow, while those of us who live in the margins, will continue to fight, and be told that we are ‘too angry,’ that we are ‘too loud,’ that we are ‘creating a mess,’ that we need ‘to just get along.’”
Jacobsen’s words ring of a movement that wasn’t sparked by just the actions of one politician; it was growing under the surface of a divided society. Now it wells up like rain through cracks in the sidewalks, spilling down through city streets in the songs, chants, and footsteps of all genders, colors and ages. Organizers hope the momentum and unity generated on Saturday will continue through the coming four years of the Trump presidency.
“I’m so happy and proud that people felt united yesterday,” Jacobsen said after the event. “But this isn’t enough. This is far from over.”
Story and Photos by Emily Goodykoontz