SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – More than three million people marched at 600 events across the nation Jan. 21, the day after President Donald Trump was sworn into office, in one of the largest protests in U.S. history.
Indian American Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant, one of the organizers of the seminal event who had called for a boycott of the inauguration shortly after Trump was elected, told India-West: “The historic number of protestors far outweighed the number of people attending the inaugural. The defining feature of the weekend was defiance, and fighting back against Trump’s racist, sexist agenda.”
“We are heading into an era of massive social movement where we shut down business as usual, with non-violent disruptions of Trump’s agenda. People are realizing that the same old approach is just not going to work,” said the community activist.
“Trump’s election is a set-back. We cannot give him an inch,” said Sawant.
“We want a leader, not a crazy tweeter,” chanted groups of women in downtown San Francisco clad in pink “pussy hats,” a reprimand to the new leader of the nation, who infamously remarked that he could “do anything,” including grabbing women by their genitals.
The rally and march in San Francisco, attended by an estimated 100,000 people, drew in the city’s diverse population. As the evening candlelight march began – kicked off by folksinger Joan Baez, who sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Not Be Moved" in Spanish – City Hall was illuminated in pink to celebrate the momentous occasion. Marchers battled torrential rain as they trudged along the city’s main artery towards the bay.
One of the largest marches was in Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, where half a million people from throughout the U.S. gathered to demonstrate for a vast menu of issues, including income equality for women, reproductive rights, immigration rights, health care and Islamophobia.
Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California who is serving her first term, took the stage at the D.C. Women’s March, calling out: “We are at an inflection point in the history of our country.” She cited her Indian American mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer specialist, and her Jamaican-American father, Donald Harris, a Stanford University economics professor, who were part of the African American civil rights movement as students at UC Berkeley in the 1960s.
“We are collectively looking in the mirror with furrowed brows and asking: who are we?”
“I believe the answer is a good one. We are a great country founded on certain ideals of equality for all,” said Harris, as marchers raised signs and cheered. “We the people have power and we are standing up to what we know is right,” she said, adding: “We are tired of being relegated to the sidelines.”
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, also spoke at the D.C. march. “I am proud to be amongst Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” she said, amidst loud cheers.
“We march so that women younger than us can grow up into a better world. We cannot be free at each other’s expense or if any one of us are targeted. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, to be courageous, to be radical, to take action,” said Billoo.
In an interview with India-West after the march, Billoo said she was excited by the opportunity to talk about the intersectionality of communities, the idea that communities are not distinct and separate.
“What impacts one community impacts us all,” she said, adding: “We are stronger together.”
“Trump’s agenda goes against our country’s best interests,” said the long-time community activist, adding that she hoped the march would blossom into a movement.
CAIR is doubling down on bridge-building between various communities, and has stepped up an outreach effort encouraging people to get to know their Muslim neighbors. “Knowing a Muslim does decrease the possibility of a hate crime,” she said.
Members of the organization Alliance of South Asians Taking Action marched at a morning rally in Oakland, Calif., which drew 60,000 people, according to police reports, which noted the rally was peaceful. “Trump’s policies are dangerous,” said ASATA member Sabiha Basrai in a press statement. “In the last 24 hours, Trump recommitted to ending climate action, and targeting immigrants for deportation. These policies would reward polluters, tear apart families, and make kids sick. That’s why South Asian women are pushing back—from Desi mothers and daughters protesting in the streets, to Pramila Jayapal in the halls of Congress,” she said.
The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum also participated in the D.C. march. Aliya Khan, a policy associate with NAPAWF, said in a press statement that the organization marched on behalf of Purvi Patel, a young woman who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after miscarrying a five-month fetus.
“Her conviction occurred under a law signed by then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence. We judge politicians on their record, and Mike Pence has a track record of putting women from our community at risk,” said Khan.
Patel was released after serving a year in prison.
On the streets of Boston, South Asian women marched holding signs defending health care access. “Affordable healthcare is a right for everyone.” said Sheetal Acharya, from the South Asian Coalition for the Boston Women's March. “Repealing the ACA will have a significant negative impact on millions of individuals.”
Members of Trikone, the oldest South Asian LGBTQ organization in the U.S, showed up in full force in San Francisco. “We're here to affirm dignity for all,” said Poonam Kapoor.
“Our members are impacted by verbal attacks on immigrants, on women, on brown and LGBTQ people—and by the hate incidents they inspire. For many in our community, and particularly for transgender Desis, these attacks may be a matter of life and death,” she said.