Downtown Omaha echoed with loud chants of “Love trumps hate!” on Saturday as thousands of marchers filled the streets in one of the biggest protest rallies in the city’s recent memory.
Police estimated between 12,000 and 14,000 women, men and children participated in the Omaha women’s march — a crowd size that far exceeded organizers’ expectations of 2,000 to 4,000 participants.
“I’ve been in traffic seven years and this is easily — without a doubt — the biggest rally we’ve ever worked,” said Sgt. Jerry Martinez of the Omaha Police Department. “It was peaceful. No problem.”
Organizers were beyond thrilled.
“We started with a room for 500 and exponentially grew from there on Facebook. This is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Alex Garrison, one of the (female) organizers of the Women’s March on Omaha.
The march was part of a national and international movement, as women’s marches were held across the U.S. and in international cities in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday.
Lincoln police estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 took part in that city’s march, although volunteers estimated far more than that participated. “I’ve never seen anything like this in Lincoln before,” said Sue Ellen Wall, a Lincoln resident.
Many protesters in Omaha readily acknowledged that Trump won the election, but several said they came to send a message to their congressional representatives that they expected them to hold Trump accountable. Several also said they wanted to send a message to Trump that he represents all Americans now, whether or not they voted for him in November.
“He needs to know our voices count too,” said Stephanie Brown, 36, a business analyst from Omaha who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Mary Bircher, a harpist with the Omaha Symphony, echoed Brown’s comments. “Donald Trump is our president too, and we need to be represented,” she said.
The crowd included young and old, women and men. In fact, it appeared at times during the pre-rally speeches that nearly 30 percent to 40 percent of the participants were men. Former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford and State Sen. Tony Vargas both attended.
Joy Becker, 23, said she worries that Trump’s style, which she characterized as authoritarian, poses a threat to this nation’s democracy. Specifically, the Lincoln woman cited Trump’s frequent attacks on the news media and his friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin as grounds for her worries.
“This is different than another Republican president. I wouldn’t be here if another Republican had been elected,” Becker said. “I’m fearful for our democratic country.”
In Lincoln, one woman said Trump’s views on immigration could have far-reaching consequences for her life. Claudia Pech identified herself as a Dreamer, or a child brought to this country as a young girl by parents who did not follow this nation’s immigration laws.
Trump has vowed to end a program started by then-President Barack Obama that allowed people such as Pech to remain in this country without fear of deportation.
The program “is being threatened by Trump, so I wanted to let people know we are here,” she said. “We’re part of what makes America great again.”
The march in Omaha began about 6 p.m. It was so large that at times it stretched for 14 blocks, from the CenturyLink Center to the Old Market. It was also loud, with protesters jubilantly hollering chants and spontaneously erupting in cheers.
Police blocked off traffic for the marchers, forcing some motorists to wait for more than 30 minutes.
Bill Laird couldn’t have been happier about being stopped in traffic at 13th and Douglas. “This is Omaha, Nebraska, right?” he asked incredulously as the marchers filed past.
Laird got trapped as he attempted to pick up his wife from the rally.
“This is amazing,” Laird said. “This is totally impressive.”
World-Herald staff writer Marcella Mercer contributed to this report.