Shoulder to shoulder and stretched out over a mile, a crowd of more than 10,000 people participated Saturday in one of the largest protest marches ever held in Portland. It was one of hundreds of such marches held in the nation’s capital and across the country the day after the inauguration of President Trump.
“It’s awesome and it makes me proud,” said Deborah Stone of Cape Elizabeth, marching down Congress Street with her 16-year-old daughter, Mollie. “I hope people will find ways to translate this to meaningful change.”
Like the march in Washington and others, the Portland march – called Women’s Walk Portland – drew far more people than expected. Portland police said the size of the orderly protest crowd was “of historic proportions” but could not say when the previous record was set.
Police Lt. Bob Doherty said the crowd easily equaled the 10,000 people who show up for the Fourth of July celebrations in Portland.
It was one of several rallies held across the state to coincide with the Washington march to support issues and causes that organizers fear are threatened by the new Trump administration.
The sheer size of the Portland march was hard to capture from one location, as it stretched more than a mile along Congress Street from Munjoy Hill. From Franklin Street, marchers were five to six people abreast back to the Eastern Promenade, while the leading edge had already traveled past the library. As they marched, men and women in pink hats occasionally chanted and clapped – at one point singing along to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” which a Munjoy Hill resident was blasting out of a speaker perched on a window frame.
There were a handful of speakers at Congress Square Park, but the area could only hold a few hundred people and most of the crowd milled around the surrounding blocks chatting and taking pictures of signs and selfies with the crowd.
The only police presence was for traffic control, and Doherty described the march as “peaceful and orderly.” Along the route, marchers stopped for stop signs and some drivers honked in solidarity, or waved at the participants.
In Maine, marches were also held Saturday in Augusta, Brunswick, Sanford and Kennebunk. Several thousand people turned out for the march in Augusta, and an estimated 200-300 participated in Brunswick.
‘IT’S NOT OVER WITH THIS MARCH’
The vast majority of the marchers in Portland were women, many of them at least middle-aged, and several said they feared Trump would undo hard-won gains for women’s rights.
“In 83 years, I have seen a lot of changes for the good and now it is all going backwards. I don’t like it,” said Jean LeConte of Westbrook, who came to the march with three close friends.
Next to her, Marcia Mullen, 66, of Poland Spring was passing out handmade hats in pink and other colors and buttons that read “March On.”
“It’s not over with this march,” Mullen said, explaining the meaning behind the buttons. “It’s just the beginning.”
Like many others at the march, Mullen saw Saturday’s march as the latest in a string of protests stretching back decades. “We started this march years ago. We marched for women’s rights and Roe v. Wade and now it is all at risk,” said Mullen.
As they walked, marchers chanted “Love Trumps Hate,” and “Fired Up! Let’s Go!” and “Who deserves equal rights? Everybody!”
Aside from the pink hats made by the Pussyhat Project that mocked Trump’s 2005 recorded remarks about grabbing women by the genitalia without their consent, the march was dominated by elaborate homemade signs, many created at sign-making parties in the days leading up to the march.
They included sharp political messages, silly puns and heartfelt demands for equal rights. “And Justice For All,” “Solidarity,” “Make America Think Again,” “We Go High” and a simple “Nope” sign tapped into political language and recent campaign slogans.
One man held a sign that said: “Duderus for uterus.” Other whimsical takes included “Put out the Trumpster fire,” “I am woman, hear me roar,” “You’re Fired” and “Hoo-ray for the EPA.”
Some offered a more pointed message for Maine politicians, including “Impeach LePage,” referring to the Maine governor, and “Call your Girlfriend. It’s time to have the talk,” with a photo of Republican Sen. Susan Collins and her phone number.
“A lot of us have marched before,” said Nancy Wallerstein of South Portland, holding up a “Peaceful Patriots” sign. “It’s exciting to see this energy again.”
Others said they plan to be more politically engaged going forward.
“This wasn’t a fair election,” said Alison McCue, a nurse from Portland. “This has really spurred me. I wasn’t much of an activist before. I am now.”
Although Portland police could not say when or if there had been a larger protest in the city, Saturday’s event was easily the largest demonstration of the new century. According to a reference librarian at the Portland Public Library, about 1,000 people participated in a world peace march in 2003 in advance of the war in Iraq, and 1,400 marched against tar sands in January 2013. The librarian did not have immediate access to information about protests during the civil rights era and the Vietnam War.
PROTEST IN AUGUSTA
Thousands of people converged Saturday behind the State House in Augusta for the Women’s March on Maine.
Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby who served as emcee for the event, said it was the largest crowd she’s seen at a rally at the Capitol.
Organizers floated numbers as high as 7,000 to 10,000 people, although Capitol Police estimated 5,000.
“This is beyond my wildest dreams,” said Bekah McIntyre, one of the event’s six organizers, as the march wrapped up at noon.
While the rally was promoted as an effort to support women’s rights, civil liberties and protection of the planet, and not as an anti-Trump rally, Trump was the reason that many turned out and the reason that many carried signs.
For Augusta resident Julie Hopkins, the reason for attending was clear.
“This man who is our president represents everything I thought America is against,” Hopkins said, weighing her words. She said Trump promotes violence and has boasted about sexually assaulting women.
“We have to stand up and get together now and oppose everything he stands for, which is racism, sexism and bigotry. We have to stop it now by speaking out, contacting our representatives, and organizing and showing up to rallies and marches. As women, we have to stand up against what he has said and done.”
Grayson Lookner traveled to Augusta from Portland as a volunteer for the Maine Democratic Party to sign people up for membership in the party.
As a supporter of Bernie Sanders, the main challenger to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Lookner said he was excited to keep the progressive energy of Sanders’ campaign alive.
He said he’s worried that Americans will lose voting rights and free speech rights.
“The rights of free assembly are enshrined in the First Amendment. I would hate to see a right-wing Supreme Court take away those rights.”
Kennebec Journal Writer Jessica Lowell contributed to this report.
Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:
This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 22 to correct the estimate of participants in the 2013 protest against tar sands.