The 'pussyhats' grab back: Massive Women's March on Washington overwhelms streets

In Washington, D.C., this week, no sartorial choice mattered more than your headwear. An estimated 500,000 demonstrators, many of them wearing pink 'pussyhat' tuques, clogged the city's streets on Saturday to bring attention to human-rights issues and protest U.S. President Donald Trump.

500,000 estimated at D.C. march, jamming streets for life, liberty and reproductive freedom

A sea of people wearing pink hats join the Women's March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

"Anyone need a hat?"

"I've got extra Pussyhats! Who wants Pussyhats?"

And, just to be sure — "Ladies, come take a hat!"

In the raging political cauldron that is Washington, D.C., no sartorial choice mattered more these past two days than your headwear.

Inauguration morning on Friday was dominated by a blaze of red ball caps bearing President Donald Trump's plea to "Make America Great Again." Today, the nation's capital was awash in pink "pussyhats," the pointy-eared tuques that were distributed en masse by demonstrators and worn by the estimated half a million people taking part in the Women's March on Washington. (The pussyhat knitting project, which became tied to the march, was a response to Trump's 2005 Access Hollywood hot-mic remarks boasting about grabbing women's genitalia.)

Just one day after Trump's oath of office, what might have been a restful weekend morning for the new First Family was met with a noisy, but peaceful rally, at the U.S. Capitol. Drummers wearing suffragette sashes, chanters, families and celebrities turned up to bring attention to what they fear the new administration will mean for women's, human and civil rights.

Downtown streets were brought to a standstill, with men, women and children packing into the same Pennsylvania Avenue parade route the president used during the previous day's inauguration.

While a turnout of 200,000 was originally estimated in Washington, a city official later revised that projection, saying organizers now believed 500,000 people would attend. (The Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Ceremonies distributed 250,000 tickets for Trump's inauguration, though the final count is not yet known.)

In addition to the march in Washington, more than 600 "sister marches" were planned worldwide, turning what began as a viral response to Trump's election win into a bona fide global pro-woman movement.

Washington remained the epicentre of the movement, however, drawing activist tourists from across the U.S. as well as Canada. 

Attendance numbers here impressed even the protesters. Area cell networks quickly became overloaded. A collective roar broke out when women's rights activist Gloria Steinem declared onstage that 1,000 more buses were needed in this march than during Trump's inauguration. And by noon, organizers had announced that the planned route was so jammed with supporters that a formal walk to the White House would not be possible.

Event organizers, who attracted celebrity guests including Madonna, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae and Emma Watson, had billed this march as a movement about unity for marginalized voices and communities such as immigrants, minorities, health-care advocates, pro-choice demonstrators, disability rights advocates and the LGBT population.

April Cook, a demonstrator from Northern Virginia, came to the Washington march to represent women of colour and to voice her objection to President Trump's plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

Emily Hartman and her friends drove down from Toronto "to make sure our neighbours know they're not alone," she said.

As crowds grew thicker around them during the pre-march rally, Hartman and her friends, Delia Greco and Jess Spindler, all wearing pink hats, sought out a patch of grass beside the National Mall to sit and rest.

Being Canadian, Spindler said, "we hold near and dear … our health care, and we're concerned for American women and their health care under Donald Trump, especially their reproductive rights."

Crowds were civil as people jockeyed for room, hoisting signs that read "Keep your tiny hands off my rights" and a graphic of Trump groping the Statue of Liberty.

Michelle Barnett, a survivor of sexual assault, said Trump's alleged history as a sexual predator concerns her most because she fears what it means about the culture of the new administration.

"I'm here standing up for women," she said. "Of course we're not giving up."

Though the event was peaceful for the most part, a chorus of boos and a flurry of middle-finger salutes erupted when a Trump float rolled toward Washington's arterial 14th Street. 

"Shame! Shame!" came the cries from the crowd.

The float became stuck in traffic at one point as Trump supporters on board taunted demonstrators and waved flags. Police then escorted it away.

Canadian protesters from Toronto at the Women's March on Washington. From left: Delia Greco, Jess Spindler, Lindsay Spindler and Emily Hartman. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

The march was a reminder that "Pink Power is alive and well," said Suzanne Baxter, a D.C. resident.

Surrounded by so many pink pussyhat tuques, Steve Coleman was in awe, calling the moment "history in the making."

March participants had been knitting those hats for days, continuing to do so while riding buses toward the rally point on Saturday, and passing them out to march supporters. When Lynn Parsons' car became stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic downtown, she used the opportunity to retrieve more pink hats from her trunk to hand out to demonstrators walking towards the rally. Women emerging from trains at the D.C. Metro were presented with pink hats knitted by women from Texas and Illinois.

And it wasn't just hats that were being distributed. 

Demonstrators at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday listen as women's activist Gloria Steinem addresses the crowd. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

At the pre-march rally, Joanne Cameron was handing out vomit bags. On the label: "Sad State of the Union barf bag. Hang on, It's going to be a Trumpy ride!"

The Women's March on Washington was a family affair for many, with fathers rolling strollers and mothers strapping pink-clad babies to their backs. 

From left, Washington, D.C., locals Cynthia Lamb, Pauline Boston and Suzanne Baxter participate in the Women's March on Washington on Saturday. 'Pink power is alive and well,' says Baxter. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

As seven-year-old Ruby Mae Garland sat atop her uncle's shoulders in front of the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, her mother Anne mused that Ruby might not remember "every minute of today."

But even if that's the case, "I want her to know she has the power to make change."

Judging by the words on the poster her daughter was waving, Ruby should get the message. Riding high above the protesters on her uncle's shoulders, she smiled and held it up: "Yes, we STILL can."

Ruby Mae Garland, 7, sits atop her uncle's shoulders near the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., during Saturday's Women's March on Washington. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)


Matt Kwong


Matt Kwong was the Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong