LOS ANGELES — Women’s March-Los Angeles, which drew a massive crowd that filled the downtown streets around Pershing Square Jan. 21, was the city’s largest demonstration in more than a decade.
The gathering was held in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, similar events in cities nationwide and in other parts of the world to protest the presidency and policies of Donald Trump. Worldwide crowds were estimated at up to three million people.
The size of crowd seemed to eclipse even the expectations of organizers, who estimated at one point that as many as 750,000 people showed up. The Los Angeles Police Department estimated the crowd at “well past one hundred thousand.”
The Los Angeles Fire Department also pegged the crowd at “over 100,000” and said 10 people were assessed by LAFD personnel for non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries, with one person taken to a hospital.
Whatever the numbers, observers said it was the largest demonstration in downtown Los Angeles since an immigration rights march in 2006 drew an estimated 500,000 people to downtown streets.
Police said no arrests were made.
Organizers stressed that the event was non-partisan and not a protest, but a “celebration of human rights.”
The mission statement for the march read, in part, “We stand together in solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”
That spirit was borne out by peaceful crowds singing “This Land Is Our Land” and a general air of exuberance despite the pedestrian gridlock downtown.
Individuals and groups backing a wide variety of priorities were on hand, advocating for issues ranging from women’s rights to environmental protections, access to health care, criminal justice reform, voting rights and immigrant and LGBT rights.
“Women’s rights are human rights,” read many signs.
A 6-year-old being pushed in a stroller by her dad carried a poster board bedazzled with peace signs and glitter reading, “The power of a girl is to change the world.”
Her father was one of many men joining the march, and one of many marchers who brought their children and grandchildren to the rally.
The Washington, D.C., march that sparked other “sister” marches similar to the one in Los Angeles was deliberately planned for the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. And many of the individuals and groups taking part opposed Trump and the policies he laid out on the campaign trail and during his transition to office.
That includes possible mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, repealing the Affordable Care Act, a health insurance initiative also known as Obamacare, and repealing funding for Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment of the Arts and humanities programs.
“In a time when we are all wondering what we can do, we can do this. … Let them hear our voice!” march organizer Deena Katz said in a statement.
Others were more outspoken about their distaste for the new president, with some briefly taking up a chant of “You’re fired,” echoing Trump’s catchphrase from his days hosting “The Apprentice” reality show.
Some carried signs with messages such as, “Not my president” and “Can’t build a wall. Hands too small.”
About five dozen celebrities, including Barbra Streisand, Jane Fonda, Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Jamie Lee Curtis and Laverne Cox signed up to attend the local event.
Trump briefly crossed paths with protestors in Washington, D.C., and posted his reaction on Twitter, in addition to a formal White House statement.
“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?” the president tweeted.
He also criticized the celebrity participants and the media coverage. The White House statement singled out Madonna for telling the Washington, D.C. crowd that she thought about “blowing up the White House. But I know that this won’t change anything.”
“Comments like these are absolutely unacceptable,” the statement said.
The White House also accused organizers of excluding pro-life demonstrators.
But there were reports of pro-life demonstrators along some March routes.
His defeated opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, posted a tweet that said in part “Thanks for standing, speaking and marching for our values.”
In Los Angeles, public officials were out in force, with many speaking before or after the approximately one-mile march from Pershing Square to City Hall, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
They served to underline the fact that this was far from a women-only event.
Five young black men studying to become doctors at USC Keck School of Medicine marched in their white lab coats. One of the men spoke for the group saying they were there “to protest hate.”
Residents of all ages joined in. One 74-year-old woman said she was marching for the first time in her life.
“This stirred me,” Linda Fenneman said.
She was joined by Linda Lopez, who said she had protested on behalf of migrant farm workers in 1971 in Calexico and for the civil rights of Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1973.
“I’ve been protesting for 45, almost 50 years,” Lopez said.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who was among the speakers on a stage across the street from City Hall, made a plea to protect access to health care.
“I know everything isn’t perfect,” Mitchell said of the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not going backwards. … We cannot allow the federal government to replace Obamacare with trumped up care.”
Mitchell was among those who sought to engage the crowd to organize beyond the one-day march.
One woman from a contingent representing the League of Women Voters said they were downtown to educate residents and motivate them to vote for the policies they support.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” she said.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson told participants that “California is the state that invents the future” and then aimed her remarks directly at Trump, saying, “Two out of every three Californians didn’t vote for you because we know that we stand for what is better and what is good and what is just and what is right in this country.”
Transportation officials added service and beefed up security to accommodate the large crowds, though Westside and San Fernando Valley station platforms were jam-packed with would-be riders as full trains stopped, unable to take on more people.
At the rally downtown, crowds were so dense that hundreds of people turned back on Olive Street, unable to reach Pershing Square. A few intrepid souls even scaled a fence at the end of an alley to escape the gridlock.
The half-block fenced field where the stage stood was at least half empty at midday as people packed into Grand Park and the grounds around City Hall and the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.
Hundreds waited patiently in single-file lines for portable toilets as the afternoon wore on, while others searched out food trucks and local restaurants.
The diversity of concerns raised by those at the rally was highlighted by the fact that at least one group scheduled its own alternate ending to the day.
AF3IRM and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network left the main march at noon and led a “Chant Down the Walls” action at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Another sign of diversity? A plane circled over the downtown area towing a banner that read, “Congratulations President Trump.”
By 3 p.m. the crowd had thinned out considerably and police subsequently re-opened downtown streets to traffic.