WASHINGTON — Forty-six days after 500,000 people jammed the nation’s capital in a mass mobilization for human rights — especially women's rights — the voice of women returned for an encore.
A crowd gathered at Freedom Plaza a block from the Trump International Hotel before marching to the White House, hoping to show that the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington was not a one-hit wonder.
"This gives you a chance to funnel your anger into something positive," said Barbara Balducci, who arrived early with husband John at the plaza, a sprawling stone space named for Martin Luther King Jr., who worked on his I Have a Dream speech nearby.
The Atlanta-area couple, who were Independents for years, say discord in the country engendered by President Trump makes it critical to speak out. "We see the country more divided than ever," John Balducci said.
Wednesday’s rally in Washington was among dozens of marches and walkouts across the country on International Women’s Day that targeted a Trump administration that critics say is rolling back civil, human and reproductive rights.
Organizers of the January Women’s March dubbed Wednesday A Day Without a Woman and were working with activists behind the International Women’s Strike, staged on the same day. The goal is to call attention to the economic power and value of women and spotlight inequities they face. Women were asked to wear red for solidarity and refrain from work if possible.
Rebecca Wood, 37, of Blue Ridge, Va., brought daughter Charlie, 4, to the D.C. rally. "This is like taking her to church," Wood said. "It is what I believe."
Charlie was born premature so health care has been a top priority, Wood said. But just as her daughter was getting better, "the outside world was not doing so well," she said.
Wood started attending rallies for a multitude of causes from immigration to the travel ban to the Dakota pipeline, anything involving "basic human rights."
Now, the two veterans were at their 11th protest, Wood said, and "my signs just say 'resist.'" In fact, Charlie will ask: "Mommy do you think they'll chant 'this is what democracy looks like,'" Wood laughs.
The inspiration for D.C.’s event struck two days after the January Women’s March with the stroke of the presidential pen, said Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, which organized the Wednesday rally.
On his first Monday in office, Trump signed an executive order reinstating what is known as the “global gag rule,” which blocks U.S. aid for international programs that provide abortions — or even discuss abortions with patients.
Even though the rule has been a political football for years — with Democratic presidents repealing it and Republicans reversing course — Trump broadened the rule, making it even more troubling, Sippel said.
“We knew we need to hit the streets on this,” Sippel said her group thought immediately. “This is not OK. An attack on one woman is an attack on all of us.”
Organizers from CHANGE, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, lead marchers to the White House on March 8, 2017. (Photo: Jarrad Henderson-USA TODAY NETWORK)
Thus was born the “Resist Trump/Kill the Gag” rally. Women’s rights overall were also a driving force for organizers, Sippel said, noting that CHANGE had 40 co-sponsors such as Amnesty International, Catholics for Choice and the National Organization for Women.
"There is a broad range of issues: deportations, a Muslim ban, an attack on reproductive rights,” she said.
On Wednesday, a conservative group called Right2Speak staged a call to action of its own. "Often women with differing perspectives are being bullied out of the conversation in this era of protest by default," Right2Speak co-founder Missy Shorey said. "Our mission is to engage, educate and elevate the debate."
The group, which numbered 2,000 members within four days of organizing, according to Shorey, was hosting power lunches throughout the country Wednesday in which people were speaking out and sharing images on social media.
Shorey said there are issues her group sees as common ground with the women's strike activists.
"We believe in encouraging women to pursue their education, which is the ultimate answer to the wage gap. We stand strongly against domestic violence and civil violence," she said. "While they are protesting we will keep living by example to empower all women. However, we will not encourage radical militant feminism."
For many at the D.C. rally Wednesday, the fire sparked at the January march is something they feel compelled to keep alive.
Janet Berry, 72, said she has been making phone calls and sending postcards to representatives and senators in the past two months. "I am objecting to the policies of the GOP and what they have done to diminish the freedoms we have in this country," Berry said as she fashioned a protest sign that read "resist."
She hopes Trump will "think about what our country can really do to preserve liberty and justice for all — not just for the rich and privileged."
Sally Kline, 54, of D.C., said she came to Wednesday's march to deliver a message to Trump that his decisions "impact the world." Trump's executive order on the gag rule was one example. "He has no idea what that did. Just having a baby in other parts of the world is a life-threatening phenomenon," she said.
Her message for the president: "He needs to be reminded there is a world beyond his ego."
Around noon, the couple hundred marchers walked up 15th Street chanting and waving placards. Some signs said simply "Stop the Global Gag Rule." Others were more unique: "Donald, God is watching you, and she's not happy."
Fritz and Ruth Von Fleckenstein take in the scene at a rally for women's rights in front of the White House on March 8, 2017. (Photo: Susan Miller, USA TODAY)
Ruth Von Fleckenstein, 76, and husband Fritz, 77, both decked in red, sat on a park bench in Lafayette Square across from the White House listening intently to the rally's speakers amid the eruption of cheers from the spirited crowd.
Ruth Fleckenstein, who said she was energized by the January march, said she was concerned about the administration's "treatment of women as underclass citizens."
Fritz Fleckenstein said the president "is attacking people who are friends of mine" with his policies. "One month into his presidency, things are getting worse."
For protester Berry, a D.C. resident, she had one driving catalyst behind joining the rally in Trump's front yard: "Trying to save the truth as we know it. I have a big concern about alternative facts."