Late Saturday morning, it appeared as though the Women’s March on Chicago might have been too successful.
Organizers had planned for as many 60,000 people to flock to Grant Park for a rally to demand equal treatment of women and to preserve their access to health care. Then, according to the plan, they would march down Jackson Boulevard to Federal Plaza.
A crowd nearly five times that showed up, organizers said, prompting them to formally cancel the march altogether.
But even without an officially sanctioned march, much of the throng — organizers said there were 250,000 people — was not content to leave, taking it upon themselves to take to downtown streets. Some marchers eventually snaked snaking north toward Trump International Hotel and Tower, then back south, snarling traffic along the way.
“We planned on marching to Federal Plaza, but there wouldn’t be anywhere for people to go when we got there,” said Kaitlin Marron, a march organizer. “We talked to the police, adjusted and moved it to Daley Plaza.”
With Grant Park at capacity, “facilitating a march would not have been in the interest of the public safety or participants,” Melissa Stratton, a spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said in an emailed statement Saturday afternoon.
The Women’s March on Chicago was part of a network of marches taking place in cities worldwide Saturday, all advocating for women’s rights and protesting the presidency of Donald Trump. Besides Washington, D.C., which drew an estimated 500,000, there were similar marches in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and London, as well as many smaller cities. Attendance worldwide exceeded 2.5 million, according to USA TODAY.
“While there was no longer an official pedestrian march facilitated by the organizers, the Chicago Police and supporting City agencies worked to ensure the safety of some participants that took to the streets for a spontaneous march,” Stratton said. “The event and ensuing march were peaceful and with limited disruption.”
Instead of stopping in front of the Richard J. Daley Center, organizers led the thousands of marchers back down Washington Street, where they were greeted by the cheers of thousands of additional demonstrators on Michigan Avenue.
With chants including “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” the group then turned east on Randolph Street before some opted to head back south on Columbus toward the initial rally site.
Several thousand demonstrators opted to make their voices heard across the Chicago River from the tower with Trump’s name in giant — and controversial — letters. Chicago Police blocked access to Wabash to make sure no marchers got near the building.
From there, the groups splintered again, with some choosing to march north on State Street to Chicago Avenue. Eventually, there was a reunion on Dearborn, with large congregations — one featuring a brass band — at both Jackson and Adams.
“I personally came as a Latina immigrant, and I came here to fight for our rights,” said Jessica Hernandez, a 23-year-old Lake View resident. “Everybody is united and ready to fight in a peaceful way. Everybody is ready to make a change.”
Hernandez, who marched with her fiance, said although the entire crowd might not have been optimistic, she felt the thousands who filled the streets were happy as a united voice.
Nature was on the side of the demonstrators, too. The official high temperature reached an unseasonable 61 degrees, just 1 degree shy of the record for Jan. 21, according to the National Weather Service.
Thousands had waited hours for the start of a rally in Grant Park which was intended to kick off the march, part of a nationwide series of protests, all set to be held the day after Donald Trump took the oath of office to become the 45th President.
Cast members from the Chicago production of the hit show “Hamilton” — which has played its own role in the aftermath of the election of President Trump — took to the stage in Grant Park Saturday morning to sing “Let it Be” to the gathered masses.
(Vice President Mike Pence saw the play in New York soon after the election, prompting a cast member to address him from the stage after the show — and prompting Trump to slam the hugely successful musical as “overrated.”)
Women’s rights advocates and supporters gathered to support of women’s access to healthcare and to denounce President Trump.
“A chorus of thousands cannot be ignored,” one of the organizers declared from the stage, not long after another speaker, Aislinn Pulley of the Black Lives Matter movement, reminded the crowd of how protesters had helped lead to the cancellation of a Trump rally last summer that had been planned for the UIC Pavilion.
The downtown area was the scene of protests the day and night before, and there were instances of property damage and violence. Sixteen people were arrested Friday night, compared to no arrests recorded during Saturday’s events.
Carol Benson, 51, said despite the march’s name, Saturday’s rally and march weren’t only about women.
“We have friends of all races, genders [and] creeds. It’s not just women’s rights, it’s human rights,” Benson said.
Jody Jewell and Becky Vizzone, both lifelong Chicagoans from the Northwest Side, were downtown by 7:30 a.m. and were able to stake out a spot against a barricade at Jackson and Columbus.
“It’s real, so we have to make people understand that this is real, this is happening,” Jewell said. “They’re trying to repeal our rights.”
“The climate has gone from rhetoric to real,” Vizzone added. “We’re not having it.”