One of many young girls at the Statehouse Saturday
Protesters bathed the Statehouse lawn in a sea of pink Saturday as Vermonters turned out for the Women’s March on Montpelier. So many attendees swarmed into the city that authorities temporarily closed Interstate 89 exits, saying the city’s roads couldn’t handle the traffic. The city police later estimated the crowd at 15,000 to 20,000.
Event organizers said the protest to voice opposition to Donald Trump’s inauguration was the largest march in state history.
At 1 p.m., even as people were still in traffic trying to make their way into the city, marchers spilled from their starting point at Montpelier High School onto the street, walking the two blocks to gather on the lawn of the Statehouse. Environmental groups demonstrated, as did Planned Parenthood, Migrant Justice, and Bread and Puppet Theater.
Emcee Elise Greaves, of Rights and Democracy, paused the proceedings to open the podium up for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made a surprise appearance. The crowd that filled the Statehouse lawn and spilled across State Street erupted.
“I have been driving down the interstate for many years and I have never seen traffic backed up like it was today,” Sanders said, to wild cheers. He promised to work against Republican efforts to end the Affordable Care Act, defund Planned Parenthood and come down hard on undocumented immigrants.
“Mr. Trump, I’ve got bad news for you,” Sanders said. “You are not going to divide us by gender, race or who we love.”
More than 60 organizations contributed to the effort, said organizer Melinda Moulton.
Moulton, who serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said on Friday that she planned to march with her grandchildren to “protect our planet, to protect the rights of the disenfranchised, for equality of all people.” She called the effort “a message to the world that Vermont stands in solidarity for all these things.”
On the Statehouse lawn
The march was organized to coincide with the Women’s March on Washington, which also took place on Saturday, as well as with more than 600 marches around the country and globe. In Vermont, seventy organizers worked more than six weeks to facilitate details and logistics, said Moulton.
Protesters heard from speakers including former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin, founder and director of Black Lives Matter Vermont Ebony Nyoni, Rep. Kiah Morris (D-Bennington), and the spoken word group Muslim Girls Making Change.
By mid-afternoon Saturday, Bonnie Acker’s voice was hoarse from chanting. She had facilitated a community effort to create banners for the event. She got Jabari Jones, a Burlington artist and Black Lives Matter activist, to create giant cardboard masks of goddesses. They led off the parade, as figures “symbolic of principles that people can unite around,” Jones told Seven Days. “All politics is local, and we’re making a stand here.”
A common theme on signs
The event went “completely without incident,” according to Isaac Grimm, who is the lead organizer at Rights and Democracy. “People were all just hugging each other,” he said.
Early on, organizers predicted 4,000 attendees. By Friday, estimates had risen to 6,000. But attendees kept pouring into Montpelier, which has a population just under 8,000. Downtown shops were bustling and sidewalks were filled with sign-toting protesters.
“I wish you could see the picture from the stage,” Kunin told the crowd. “It’s like spring is here and a million flowers are blooming.” Then Kunin urged Vermonters to remain hopeful. “The next four years we will be heard,” she said. “We will not be silent.”
Dvora Zipkin, a Worcester resident, stood along State Street watching other protesters pass. A cardboard sign was hanging from her neck, with a message scrawled in marker: “This nasty old Jewish lesbian still can’t believe I have to protest this crap.”
“Democracy is dead,” she told Seven Days. “We’re the people who need to take it back.”
Rachel O’Sullivan had come to the march with her daughter Noelle. She teaches at Champlain Elementary School in Burlington and wanted to support her New American students, she said.
She added, “I felt like I just couldn’t stay home.”