In Sarasota, thousands rally for democracy as part of global protest march

Protesters gather in Sarasota for March for Democracy

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Sarasota on Saturday as part of national protests on the anniversary of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
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Thousands of people gathered in downtown Sarasota on Saturday as part of national protests on the anniversary of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The thousands of protesters gathered at the base of Sarasota’s Unconditional Surrender statue had no intentions of giving up.

On Saturday afternoon, a massive group held a March for Democracy protest on the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Nearly 30 local activist groups co-sponsored the event.

The gathering echoed last year’s Women’s March that amassed sizable crowds across the nation to protest the ascendency of the Trump administration. This weekend, women’s marches are planned around the world for female empowerment and to denounce Trump’s views, according to the Associated Press.

Judy Whitkopf was among those gathered Saturday afternoon in Sarasota. She said she missed last year’s local protest, much to her chagrin. This time, she was inspired by her sister who participated in last year’s Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

“I haven’t marched since the ’60s when I protested Vietnam and (George) Wallace. Now I see that I need to participate more often,” she said. “I’m ashamed I didn’t speak up sooner.”

You can ask my husband — I’m the queen of resistance.

Grinde Villarreal

Elizabeth Grinde Villarreal protested in the ’60s, as well. But ever since Trump became president, she’s been active in organized protest movements.

“You can ask my husband — I’m the queen of resistance,” Grinde Villarreal said.

She said she’s sick of fundamental rights being trampled on by the Trump administration.

“We’re attacking everything so we can bring the good back, and I’ll do it until my dying day.”

Protesters in downtown Sarasota were met with supporters and detractors, many of whom honked their horns as they sped along the John Ringling Causeway. Screams of encouragement — “We love you!” — and opposition — “Trump’s the president! Get over it” — blended into the cacophony of traffic noise.

But opposing voices were few and far between Saturday afternoon. Organizers said about 10,000 people signed up for this year’s march, but Saturday’s actual attendance seemed higher than last year’s 12,000 attendees.

While they crossed the bridge, marchers joined in chants led by local activist Natasha Clemons. One of them voiced support for Friday’s federal government shutdown. “If we don’t get justice? Shut it down! If we don’t get peace? Shut it down,” they said.

In addition to protesters, representatives from such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, Indivisible chapters and Planned Parenthood set up booths in the grass along the Sarasota Bayfront. Volunteers wandered the area, too, making sure everyone had the chance to register to vote.

Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum made an appearance, as well. He said he “wasn’t surprised” that the Trump administration has shut down a year into the presidency.

“This has been a very difficult year for many of us to make it through under the leadership,” Gillum said. “Instead of bringing this country together, it seems like the president has been intent every day, every tweet, to not only divide us but, in my opinion, to embarrass not only himself but the country.”

People of all ages, races and sexes came out to the March for Democracy. Many marchers said they were proud to see such diversity at the event.

“I think a march like this brings a lot of solidarity to our community,” said Ezra Kats, who hoisted a sign that read ‘Not my president.’ “It shows we’re not alone in our thinking, and it shows us that we have a voice. The more people who protest, the more power we have.”

Meanwhile Saturday, several hundred people gathered in Palm Beach, carrying anti-Trump signs as they marched near the president’s Mar-a-Lago home on Florida’s east coast, the AP reports.

Another Sarasota protest march is slated for 1 p.m. Sunday at Five Points Park, 1 Central Ave.

Ryan Callihan: 941-745-7095, @RCCallihan