Millions of people around the world, mostly women, staged weekend protests against the new US president, Donald Trump, and proclaimed the birth of a new political movement.
In raucous but peaceful scenes, more than half a million joined the Women’s March on Washington DC in what was thought to be the largest-ever inauguration protest, dwarfing the 60,000 who protested against the Vietnam war before Richard Nixon returned to office in 1973.
“Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!” they chanted in the direction of the White House.
More than 600 “sister marches” took place across the US and around the globe with 250,000 reported to have gathered in Chicago, and around 100,000 each in Los Angeles and Boston. Chicago’s turnout was so large that organisers had to cancel the march portion of their event for safety reasons.
In New York, 400,000 anti-Trump activists marched past Trump Tower on Fifth Ave, according to the office of Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Around 100,000 people also mobilised in London, with other smaller marches in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Canada. There was even a march at a base in Antarctica.
The organisers of the main Washington march had said the purpose was to send a message that “we expect elected leaders to act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities”. But the protesters’ concerns spread wider.
Placards outside the US embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square read: “Dump Trump”, “Reject hate, reclaim politics” and “No to racism, no to Trump”. In Berlin, where the country has welcomed refugees from Syria, protesters chanted: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.”
“Trump typifies toxic masculinity, I understand why the march has this name and we are happy to march underneath that,” said Carson McColl, who was marching with his partner in London.
In Paris at least 7000 gathered near the Eiffel Tower holding up banners that read “liberty, equality, sorority” in a reference to France’s national motto.
Organisers said the surprising turnout, plus the “heartening and galvanising” tone of the gatherings, should provide a springboard for long-term political action against what they see as Trump’s divisive politics.
As the feminist writer Gloria Steinem put it in a speech in Washington, this was “the upside of the downside” of Trump’s election. “This is more than just a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement,” the organisers of the Washington march said.
That sentiment was echoed in London. Emma McNally, an artist who helped organise the march that packed Trafalgar Square with five times more people than originally expected, said: “It was peaceful and it was hopeful and people felt galvanised that now is the time to act.”
The marches were a magnet for A-list celebrities. Helen Mirren, Courtney Cox, Cynthia Nixon and Whoopi Goldberg were among the actors protesting in New York. In Washington Alicia Keys sang Girl on Fire, Madonna gave a profanity-laced address and Scarlett Johansson spoke on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Amy Schumer, Julia Roberts and Jane Fonda were among many spotted at the marches.
“Yes, I’m angry,” Madonna said. “Yes, I’m outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won’t change anything.”
Michael Moore, the documentary-maker, flipped the most reverberant phrase of Trump’s inauguration speech and said: “We are here to end the Trump carnage.” Cher said Trump’s ascendance has people “more frightened maybe than they’ve ever been”.
While the marches were peaceful, they also showed up the political divisions in America. Marlita Gogan, a Trump supporter who came to Washington from Houston, Texas, for the inauguration, said police had advised her family not to wear their “make America great again” hats as they walked through crowds of protesters.
“I think it’s very oppressive,” she said. “They can have their day, but I don’t get it.”
The large turnouts were not surprising given a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Trump had the lowest favourability rating of any incoming US president since the 1970s.
Protesters outside the US made clear that they were marching not just in solidarity with Americans but because of their concerns about changing politics in their countries.
McNally said “corresponding characters” to Trump in British politics, show the danger of similar forces taking hold in the UK. “It is critical that each and every one of us now acts to engage in their local politics and local community and stand for equality in any way we are able,” she said. “It is an exciting opportunity. Rarely has the enemy shown its face so clearly.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International, said of the marches: “This is more than a moment. This is a movement and people of all genders, all ages and all backgrounds are coming together to take action against attacks on human rights and women’s rights.”