A sea of pink swarmed the capital lawn in Montpelier last Saturday afternoon as thousands of Vermonters rallied in the state’s version of the nationwide Women’s March.
While hundreds of thousands of supporters flocked to Washington D.C., up to 20,000 gathered at the State House in solidarity for women around the world — including surprise guest Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The senator said Saturday’s crowd was the largest he’s seen in Montpelier. With overwhelming numbers entering the city, Vermont State Police shut down two interstate exits before the march was set to take off at 1:30 p.m.
Students, graduates, staff and faculty of Colchester’s St. Michael’s College were among the peaceful yet passionate crowds, both in Vermont and in the nation’s capital. Most held signs with powerful messages, and many chanted slogans from “Go Bernie!” to “Dump Trump!”
Still more wore “pussyhats” — a nationwide project of pink hats with “pussycat” ears, a commentary on President Donald Trump’s vulgar comments leaked on a tape during the campaign season.
When Meghan Gallagher, president of Vermont Planned Parenthood Action Fund, stepped up to the podium, the chants shifted to a question-and-answer-type engagement.
“When reproductive rights are under attack, what do we do?” Gallagher shouted.
“We stand up, and we fight back,” the crowd echoed, again and again, with increased volume.
Access to safe and legal abortions, adequate health care, gay rights and racial equality were among the rights women advocated.
“It’s a women’s march, but people are marching for a lot of different reasons,” Micalee Sullivan, director of St. Michael’s Center for Women and Gender said. “Defending women’s rights means a lot of different things depending on who you are and where you come from.”
Senior student Manuela Yeboah had a similar sentiment.
“I am here because I stand with all women. All black women, all Latino women, all gay, straight, bi, trans women,” she said. “We are the people that hold the world together … so it’s important for us to be here to support other women.”
An environmental studies major and an immigrant herself, she also stands with Mother Earth and immigrant women, she added.
Moments before, a migrant worker from Migrant Justice, an activist group organizing for human rights and food justice, shared his story. When he left Mexico to come work in the U.S., he said goodbye to his family forever, just in case. He almost died four times on his way here.
“That is why it is so sad to hear Donald Trump call us trespassers, criminals and rapists,” he said.
“We have families, we have needs, we’re human beings,” he later added. “And we’re here to work. And we need respect.”
As cheers erupted in the crowd, as they often did that afternoon, anti-Trump protests continued to fill the air — as did a sense of dignity, which Sullivan said she expected.
In Washington D.C., an aura of cooperation, generosity and optimism fell on the capital, said Michael Bosia, a St. Michael’s political science professor.
The night before the march, he was hande a pussyhat made by a Reno, Nev. woman who couldn’t attend the march but knitted the hats for those who could.
Bosia went to surround himself with like-minded people, motivated to change the political direction of the United States.
A nation’s capital is typically where most political action occurs, but with this march, Bosia said, everyone didn’t just assemble in D.C. Demonstrating all over the country and world spread awareness to a number of different public spaces, he said.
In Montpelier, Sanders said the people of New England’s “brave little state” are not backing down.
“You will not divide us up by gender, by race or by who we love,” he said, speaking directly to Trump. “In fact, your bigotry and your ugliness are going to bring us together.”
Sanders said the silver lining to Trump’s presidency was seeing the multitude of gatherers on the capital lawn, representing all ages, classes and interests.
Women from St. Michael’s, however, expressed disappointment that no male students traveled with them. A few other Purple Knight groups drove down separately, Sullivan said.
The Colchester resident motivated marchers to wear “nasty women garb,” encouraging them to reclaim the phrase from Trump, who gave the title to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Yeboah sported a sweatshirt emblazoned with “You go girl” and displayed an “I stand with Planned Parenthood” sign.
As she walked away, back to Montpelier High School where the march began, a woman yelled to her, “You guys are superheroes! You guys are awesome!”
The demonstration continued.
“This is step one,” Sullivan said.