On the night that Donald Trump was elected the president of the United States, Manisha Gandhi, Delhi resident-turned-New Yorker, could not believe what she was seeing on the news. As someone who grew up in Delhi, Gandhi was no stranger to the subtle and direct harassment that women experience on a daily basis – on the streets, but also in their schools, workspaces and families. Even so, she said, she couldn’t stomach the fact that someone who had used such misogynistic rhetoric on the campaign trail, mocked women on television and bragged of sexual assault on a recording, was the newly-elected president.

“I come from a developing country, and yet we saw a woman prime minister elected there,” she said. “It’s really sad that America couldn’t elect a woman president this year.”

It was this sentiment that prompted Gandhi to travel from New York to Washington DC the day after Trump’s inauguration ceremony, to attend the Women’s March. Manisha brought her 10-year-old son with her, and proudly sported a sign that read “I should not be marching here for women’s rights in 2017”.

She was joined by hundreds of thousands of women in Washington DC, as well as millions more in the US and all across the world. Women’s marches were conducted in several major metropolises the day after Trump’s inauguration, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to one estimate, around 4 million protesters took to the streets across the country. Everywhere, protesters echoed the same sentiment – that they were against everything that the Trump presidency stands for.

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“I’m here because I do not support the current president,” said Shabiha Yasmin, a resident of Ellicott City, Maryland. “It’s ridiculous that someone who is so obnoxious about women is the president of America. I’m an immigrant and a Muslim – I’ve been here for 15 years, both my children were born here, and I wouldn’t let anything happen to us. America is made with immigrants.”

Alpana Barua, who is originally from Assam and has now settled in Bethesda, Maryland, echoed this sentiment.

“I’m unhappy that Hillary lost,” she said. “It’s sad that a qualified candidate like her couldn’t win. And I’m unhappy that Trump became president because of the divisive rhetoric he uses.”

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Gandhi, Yasmin and Barua were joined by an estimated 500,000 women in downtown DC, who came equipped with megaphones, catchy chants and an array of witty, insightful and in some cases, heartbreaking signs. A sea of pink woolen hats – “pussy hats”, a direct reference to Trump’s now-infamous Access Hollywood tape – flooded the areas around the Capitol and the National Mall.

While a few of Trump’s supporters were in attendance, standing on the sidewalks and passing occasional remarks to the protesters who walked by, it was an overwhelmingly anti-Trump show: chants included mentions of the president’s notorious tweeting addiction, one protest sign called him a “fuckboy” and shrieks of “Not my president!” could be heard echoing around the street frequently.

The scene was in stark contrast to the day before, when the downtown district was packed with barricades, security and a flood of conspicuously red “Make America Great Again” caps for Trump’s inauguration. While the ceremony was arguably less-attended than the march, the attendees were just as passionate – just about different issues. They spoke, instead, about the importance of having a businessman run America – “like a personal checkbook, where you don’t spend more money than you have,” one said – and the need for tighter border control.

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“All countries should remain countries,” said Jeffery Tippen, an engineer from DeSoto, Texas, explaining why the president’s message resonated with him. “There’s no reason to be ashamed of being from a specific country – China, Mexico, wherever. The borders are okay. Just because we have borders doesn’t mean we hate people.”

And yet, many of the women who attended the march did view Trump’s general behaviour as being filled with hate – particularly the kind that they experienced on a daily basis.

“I work as a research analyst, and my workplace is very male-dominated,” said Washington, DC resident Kelsey Kober. “I feel like I’m not being taken seriously because of my gender, even though my department is majority women.” She added that she saw this same attitude reflected in the way Hillary Clinton was judged on the campaign trail. “There was this obvious double standard of her getting a lot of coverage just for having a few emails, whereas Trump never showed his tax returns, had allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him and so many conflicts of interest. It was pretty obvious to me, as a woman, why that was.”

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“His winning really validated that it’s okay to sexually harass women,” added Isabel Lerma, a DC-based realtor. “I can’t believe we could elect a man like this. I hope that people everywhere else in the world can see this march and understand that we don’t want this – most of us did not vote for him. I think seeing the people who are here today, versus those who weren’t yesterday, is the strongest message we can send President Trump.”

The march – which started out on the National Mall but soon sprawled and spilled into several other streets in downtown DC, served as a balm for the women and men who were similarly alarmed about what Trump’s presidency might mean for them. It was a way to feel some solidarity, said Paola Kim, a San Francisco resident who flew down to DC just to feel some solidarity.

“It’s almost like I’m still in denial about it – I understand this is real life, but it feels surreal at the same time,” she said. “I’m just here trying to cope.”

Credit: Kavya Balaraman