Thousands of women gather to protest President Trump’s agenda

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WASHINGTON  — Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington are encouraging attendees to march on their own to the grassy Ellipse near the White House.

The original plan had been for organizers to lead a formal march to the Ellipse, with marchers walking down Independence Avenue along the south side of the National Mall.

But city officials said Saturday that because that route is filled with protesters, a formal march is no longer possible. The crowd of several hundred thousand is still expected to head to the Ellipse.

Organizers are now telling rally-goers from the stage that they should head north toward Constitution Avenue, which runs along the north side of the Mall. They can then make a right at the Washington Monument to reach the Ellipse.

After a day of grandeur, pomp and circumstance for Trump, buses and planes of protesters arrived in the nation’s capital Friday night and Saturday morning — a reminder of the rancor and anger fueled by the spirited 2016 race between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who has long advocated for women’s rights around the globe.

The event, formally called the Women’s March on Washington, has drawn women with many disparate agendas, leading to some confusion and controversy about the central message in the weeks leading up to the march.

But in interviews, many of the women traveling to Washington said they wanted to bring attention to reproductive rights, the proposed rollback of former President Barack Obama’s health care law and the fight for equal pay for men and women.

Some of the attendees also see the march as a sharp repudiation of Trump’s history of offensive and misogynistic comments in the years before he entered presidential politics.

Several hundred sister marches are planned around the country and the world. One of the first occurred Friday night in Brussels where women gathered with candles for a “Lights for Rights” rally to show opposition to Trump.

The women’s march on Washington has evolved organically from a post-election call to action on Facebook to an organized effort that will include a roster of high-wattage activists and attendees including feminist Gloria Steinem, actors America Ferrera, Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansson.

Leaders and activists from hundreds of left-leaning groups are joining the march, including the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, the American Federation of Teachers, as well as pro-immigrant and pro-environment groups.

The march has also drawn thousands of women from different backgrounds who simply hope to show their solidarity against Trump. Many are attending as multi-generation families of women, traveling with friends by air, train and buses.

Mother and daughter Deborah and Maeve Kelly of New Jersey decided to attend the march after being deeply frustrated by the results of the November election. They left the Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, at 6 a.m. ET on Saturday, and their group plans to return to New Jersey later in the evening.

Deborah Kelly, 61 of Chesterfield Township, New Jersey, said she was inspired to march after being stunned by the number of women who voted for Trump in November.

“I didn’t feel like women were voting in their own interests,” she said in a telephone interview before Saturday’s event. “This march was a way to demonstrate to the public that there is a large group of women out there who feel that the rights and progress made over the last decade are really threatened and could be eroded.”

She encouraged her daughter to attend with her as part of the show of force by all generations: “We have to be very vigilant,” Kelly said. “This is almost a symbolic passing of the torch to the younger generation, who have to be active to protect the rights that we have fought for.”

Maeve Kelly, 25 of Lambertville, New Jersey, said she didn’t want American voters to forget about the comments Trump has made over the years judging women by their looks and their weight.

“That’s just something that really angers me, and I don’t think it has any place in my world,” she said in an interview. “It feels like everything we have worked toward, and all that suffragettes worked toward — so we could vote and be successful — is threatened now.”

The march, she said, is “mostly just a message of solidarity.”

“There are so many people traveling from all over the country to show that we are going to stand together and not let the President of our country bully us or make us feel like we don’t belong,” she said. “It’s really just taking a stand for women’s rights.”