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Photos: Over 250K Flood Historic Women's Rally, Take Streets Despite March Cancellation

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jan 21, 2017 10:08PM

Over 250,000 people poured into Grant Park and the Loop for the massive-beyond-expectations Women's March on Chicago, according to organizers. That figure dwarfed even the largest projection heading into the weekend, which estimated around 50,000. The sheer size of the turnout forced organizers to officially cancel the march, but the masses took the streets regardless, in waves of joyful protest the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. More people were at the rally in Chicago than attended Trump's inauguration.

Crowds packed Columbus Drive, with people arriving as early as 7:30 a.m., even though performances didn't begin until 9:15 a.m. People spilled out far west, into Michigan Ave. and, and beyond. Crowds "extended all the way to the Loop," Women's March representative Bryan Goettel told Chicagoist.

The speaker program, which kicked off around 9:55 a.m., included aldermen, dozens of Illinois politicians, members of the cast of Chicago's production of Hamilton, Black Lives Matter activists and many more.

Aislinn Pulley, lead organizer of BLM Chicago, rallied the crowd in a chant of "I! Believe! That we! Will win!" She reminded the crowd that Trump suffered his most humiliating retreat here before taking aim at our current mayor, too. "In Chicago, we’ve had important historic victories over the past five years. We kicked Trump out. We got rid of our state’s attorney Anita Alvarez. We got rid of Garry McCarthy, former Chief of Police. Who’s next? Rahm Emanuel."

Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza said, “Today we need to send a message to Washington, DC. Do not mess with Chicago. Today we are here to celebrate the power of the puss.”

Tara Stamps, a Chicago teacher, memorably urged vigilance. “Let this next election cycle be an unprecedented number of sisters on the ballot," Stamps said. "Do your homework. Stalk your congressman, alderman, make people accountable to the work that must be done in this city, state, country. It is not time for us to go silently into that dark night.”

Kelly Hayes, of Lifted Voices, urged network-building in addition to reaching out to political representatives. “Should you be calling your Congressman? Yes. But if that’s all you’re doing, we change nothing," Hayes said. "We have to culture-build together, community-build together. We know bad things happen when we call the police over mental health crises. What are we doing to develop alternatives? How many of us know our neighbors and are building phone trees, or our own emergency responses when things go wrong in our own communities. We have to build what we know they won’t. This government is not safety. Racist policing is not safety.”

Even as the speakers were frequently galvanizing, the giant gathering was intent on a march. Shortly after 11 a.m., a safety marshal updated the crowd that marshals would help lead the massive crowd from the park after the rally. But fences had to be removed well ahead of the end of the program, which allowed the hundreds of thousands of often-pink-bedecked people to begin moving through downtown—even if a march was technically cancelled.

Marchers spread north down Michigan, east on Randolph, and looped back downtown at Monroe. Others spread west toward Federal Plaza. Large crowds also continued to stream in front of Trump Tower, and near Dearborn and Adams, into the early afternoon.

The event did indeed feel historic, marcher Sarah Staggs, of Lincoln Square, said."I'm ecstatic," she told Chicagoist. "We more than tripled (the estimate), we've taken over nearly all the streets downtown. It's an incredible show against racism, xenophobia and narrow nationalism."

The mood among the crowd on the ground—near the stage, at the rally, and throughout the impromptu marches—was overwhelmingly positive and peaceful.