It takes a lot to pack Denver’s Civic Center for reasons other than a Super Bowl win.
Nearly a year since throngs turned the park into a blue and orange revelry, scores of Coloradans in pink “pussyhats” took it over this morning out of dread, not celebration.
The crowd of women and men who love them spoke of lumps in their throats and pits in their stomachs about Donald J. Trump and the threats his presidency poses to their reproductive rights, health care plans, LGBTQ freedoms, immigrant protections, religious expression, environmental protections, and senses of basic human decency.
“Some things, even in our family, are more important than the Broncos,” said Brittany Tafoya, who’d come with her two sons, three sisters, her mom and an aunt, all wearing fuchsia knit caps with the Broncos emblem made courtesy of an uncle in the swag business.
Five generations of Tafoya’s family last made the trip from the north suburbs to Civic Center in February to cheer their favorite team after its World Championship win. In the months that followed, they’ve lost a grandmother to diabetes and an uninsured aunt to breast cancer, and gained a Muslim sister-in-law. Their energies since have turned from Broncos fanaticism to anti-Trump activism.
And so before sunrise this morning the family found a downtown parking spot and lit up their Coleman stove to fry eggs and brew coffee for themselves and anyone else who seemed cold or hungry. At 7:30, they were told to fold up their tailgate so police could block the streets. By 9:00, they were squeezed in a crowd that had swelled to tens of thousands.
Denver’s Police Department tweeted that it was unable to provide accurate numbers for attendance, which some media outlets estimated at more than 100,000. Whatever the number, the crowd grew far bigger than expected, jamming Civic Center and surrounding streets so tightly that, for more than two hours, Colorado’s anti-Trump movement looked more like an immutable stand. Marches in other cities had similarly high turnout.
“Let’s be honest. This is less of a march than a love sandwich,” said Cate Russell, who moved to Denver earlier this month in search of a place to spend the next four years. The 20-something with the word “grit” tattooed on her neck left her hometown in Texan Trump country because of what she called “moral loneliness.” In just a few weeks in Denver, she has made two friends in a sex assault survivor’s group. Together, they knitted hot pink caps with cat ears for today’s march and the marches they expect in the months and years to come until “the pussy grabber,” as she calls Trump, “is out of office.”
“We’re not going away,” she said.
Today was Russell’s first protest, as it was for many in the crowd. Members of church groups and books groups and support groups carpooled together, prepared, if necessary, for a morning of civil disobedience. A women’s hiking club from Jefferson County brought ski masks in case they were pepper sprayed. There was no need. Not even close.
Groups of social workers, schoolteachers, ob-gyns and off-duty cops marched peacefully alongside Occupy Denver alumni and other self-described anarchists. Sorority sisters in pink Patagonia parkas chanted in unison with a badass bunch of leather-clad roller derby competitors. Two lesbian librarians, as they identified themselves on the signs they carried, handed Kleenex to a duo of Lululemon-wearing preschool moms whose toddlers were crying. CU students, union members, self-professed 60-something “cat women,” and Black Lives Matter activists all described the same mix of disappointment and shock they feel about the new president. Most took comfort in the crowd and reassurance in knowing that the “mandate” Trump brags about is no mandate at all, at least in Colorado.
“It feels great to be in the presence of this many people, to be outside our bubble, to see we’re not alone,” said Angiela Meyer, who came from Boulder with her family and a sign reading, “I’m not giving up. Neither should you.”
Helen Bonhotal didn’t let her age (88), wheelchair or oxygen tube stop her from flying from New York to join her family marching against the 45th president. She held a sign reading, “Now you’ve got grandma upset.”
There was an art to the signs. The old school ones, like “Hear us roar.” The catty ones, like “Free Melania.” And the clever ones, like “Nacho uterus” and “This toupee shall pass.” One man held a sign with the ultimate Colorado insult: “Trump skis in jeans.”
One day into Trump’s administration, protesters gleaned a certain joy in the fight. Strength can come out of collective noise.
But then the march wound down and the marchers headed home, their faces weary and voices softened to what politics usually sounds like, quiet resignation. Trump was still running the country.
Russell, the Texas transplant, rested her head on one of her new friends’ shoulders. “Ugh,” she signed. “You can only shout so much.”
Reporter Kelsey Ray contributed to this story.
Photo by Marie-Dominique Verdier.