Waving signs reading “Nasty Women Unite,” and “Choose Love,” thousands of marchers poured into downtown St. Petersburg Saturday to support women’s issues and civil rights. It was one of hundreds of “sister marches” happening the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as a protest to his agenda.
As of Friday, organizers of The Women’s March St. Petersburg said more than 17,000 people had registered for the march. While no official estimates have been released, St. Petersburg Police estimated 20,000 people had descended on Florida’s fifth largest city.
The march began at Demen’s Landing with speakers including representatives from Planned Parenthood and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who called the event “a historic gathering.” He read a proclamation declaring Jan. 21, “Women’s Rights Day in St. Petersburg.
“We encourage all citizens to recognize the significant contributions of the women in our community,” Kriseman said to an overflowing crowd. “This proclamation is nice for occasions like this,” he continued. “But let me be very clear; for as long as I’m your mayor, every day in St. Petersburg will be Women’s Rights Day. “
Several members of the St. Petersburg City Council also were on hand, including Council Chair Darden Rice.
“Love eventually triumphs over hate, and science eventually triumphs over ignorance,” Rice told the crowd. “(Trump’s inauguration) reminds us we are entering a new world. But we have been at this crossroad before. We can make sure no one sets us back. I don’t know about you, but this genie ain’t going back in the bottle.”
Before the marchers began making their way out of Demen’s Landing on to Bayshore Boulevard, many in the crowd sang an impromptu round of “Happy Birthday” to organizer Suzanne Benton. The St. Petersburg based artist turned 81 Saturday.
“This is just a beginning, because now we know that rights aren’t given, they are won,” she said before exiting the stage. “Watch out and hear us roar.”
As the crush of people turned right onto Bayshore Boulevard, a series of chants could be heard ranging from “Rise up, St. Pete,” to “Love, not hate makes America great.”
While Saturday’s protest began as a march for women’s rights, many in the crowd brandished signs supporting gay rights, immigrants, and people of color.
“I hope this registers before I have to,” read one from a young woman wearing a hijab.
Even a lone Donald Trump supporter seemed to be carried away with the enthusiasm of the day.
“I love that so many women showed up, I’m proud of them and I’m proud of our community,” said Greg Dunay St. Petersburg. He did, however, get some pushback from protesters as he waved his “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump" sign.
“Some people are being rude, but that’s okay, I understand that,” he said. “I’m not protesting them, I’m here supporting them. This is awesome.”
Cyrille Cove of Sun City drove to St Petersburg with a group.
“We’re marching for our children and our grandchildren, and we’re marching for the generations that are yet to come,” she said. “As women, we are marching for this country because we see what’s happening in our country happened in Europe 60 or 70 years ago,” said her friend, Shulamit Sager. “We’re seeing our rights taken away and we’re seeing someone with power assuming he can do anything he wants.”
For protester Andy Crossfield of Lakeland, Saturday’s march was old hat.
“I told a friend of mine that I came of age protesting, and it looks like I’m leaving protesting,” he said.
“Elections have consequences and not in the way that a lot of people think,” he added. “This is the result of disrespect so we are exercising our right to be out here. Those people out there who feel like America has left them behind, all they need to do is take a look at how many people are out here and they will be emboldened.”