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‘Not My Presidents Day’ rallies bring thousands to the streets

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/21/2017 Matthew Diebel , Jefferson Graham and Aamer Madhani
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A broad range of activists opposed to the month-old Trump administration used Monday's Presidents Day holiday to hold “Not My Presidents Day” rallies nationwide.

While most government workers, school employees and students enjoyed a day off due to the federal holiday, events took place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and as many as two dozen other communities, organizers said.

In New York, hundreds of protesters gathered shortly after noon near Columbus Circle, home to a statue of Christopher Columbus and the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which was blockaded by police. At the southwest corner of Central Park, nearly opposite the hotel, protesters chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!” Thousands more gathered in the streets nearby in anticipation of being allowed to march south.

Many people carried placards — some of them strident, some amusing. “I don’t pay taxes to fund a golf weekend,” said one, while others pleaded that Americans “Just say no to fascist pigs” and “NO! We refuse to accept a fascist America.”

One elderly woman carried a poster resembling a book cover entitled “The Little Golden Book of Alternative Facts.”

“My family immigrated into this country from the Dominican Republic,” said Maria Amoldinado, 23, of Yonkers, N.Y. She said she attended the rally because of President Trump’s immigration policies and the specter of authoritarianism.

“My great-grandparents and grandparents came here to escape poverty and to get away from the dictatorship of President (Rafael) Trujillo. I don’t want my family to live under another totalitarian regime.”

Another attendee, Monica Lim, 26, of Brooklyn, said Trump’s attitude toward Muslims reminded her of the Asian exclusion legislation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. “It was 'The Yellow Peril' then, and it is 'The Hijab Peril' now,” she said, referring to the scarf worn by many Muslim women.

She also said she foresees a time when the rise of China could bring about clashes between an “undisciplined” Trump White House and an increasingly ambitious Beijing regime.

Another protester, John Winterton, 33, of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y, a suburb north of the city, said he was most worried about Trump’s attitude toward the press. Pointing to the row of television trucks present to cover the rally, he said, “They’re here to shine light on the truth, not to create fake news. Sometimes they get things wrong, but they usually correct it quickly and the overall performance of the media in this country is truthful. It’s not fake news. The real fakery here is Donald Trump and his team’s 'alternative facts.'”

Janice Rosenberg, 68, of Manhattan's Upper West Side, said she feared the rise of Trump and other right-wing leaders could portend a return to the kind of dictatorial regimes that resulted in the deaths of several relatives in the Holocaust.

“I like to think that Trump will be held back by the checks and balances of the American system,” she said, “but other countries are not as fortunate as we are in having a firm constitution. And the virus can spread.”

In the crowd, a lone Trump supporter with a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap had a mixture of heated and light-hearted exchanges with protesters. As the exchanges grew more heated, television crews, photographers and reporters gathered to witness the scene.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of protesters descended on City Hall chanting “Not my President!” No official count was available, but organizers put the size of the rally at more than 1,000, many times smaller than the Jan. 21 women’s march, which attracted 750,000.

“Fear is contagious,” said Mike Stutz of Los Angeles, who painted his face orange and sported “Orange Fever” placards. “It can really destroy what we believe in as the American dream," he said. "Don’t catch the orange fever. Embrace your fellow man, don’t reject your fellow man.”

In a pink “pussy” hat, Marilyn Derr of Manhattan Beach, Calif., said, “Everyone deserves a chance in this country. We’re all immigrants.”

Susan Walker of Los Angeles said she remembered marching against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and making an impact. “We got Congress to hear us,” she said. “We were important to getting the war to end.” Showing up to the rally, she said, “is better than sitting home and being mad all the time."

Protests were also taking place in nearby Pasadena and near Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

Farther north, in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 30 people waded out into the latest storm, hoping to catch commuters returning from work and the long weekend along a highly trafficked intersection in the Silicon Valley town of San Mateo.

Standing in front of a Bank of America building, whose murals depict the life of Italian-American A.P. Giannini, who founded the bank to help immigrants, a little over 30 people held umbrellas and signs that read "Resign" and "Impeach the emperor." Every few minutes, drivers honked.

Parisa Roghani, a professor at Oakland's Samuel Merritt University, said she made the 30-mile commute to the protest because of Trump's executive order affecting immigrants. Her father's side of the family still lives in Iran.

"If that stays in effect there are several family members who will die before I see them," she said. "It makes me sad that family members can't see each other and it has nothing to do with me and nothing to do with them," said Roghani, 36.

"We're fortunate we can be in a place where we can do something," she said, holding a sign that read "A president serves the people." "It's nice to be able to do something that influences my own fate."

In Portland, Ore., there were several arrests, police tweeted. According to The Oregonian, it was unclear how many people were arrested and what charges they might face.

In Chicago, several hundred protesters demonstrated near the Trump International Hotel & Tower, which has been site of several large protests since Inauguration Day. Protesters — some school-age children tagging along with parents on their day off — held up signs that dug at Trump for losing the popular vote. Others expressed their support for the media and slammed him as a “jabberwocky terrorist who combats reason with babble & blather.”

Ursula Wheeler, 29, said she has been dismayed by the selection and confirmation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who sued the federal agency more than a dozen times during his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general. She said she’s also concerned about what a Trump administration will mean for reproductive health care for women around the world — one of Trump’s first action’s as president was to re-establish a Reagan-era policy prohibiting American foreign aid to health care providers abroad that discuss abortion as a family-planning option.

Before Trump’s election, Wheeler said she was not particularly politically active. But in the last month, she said she has made roughly a dozen calls to her congressional representatives to express her concern on policy issues. She has also made a weekly effort to attend a community forum or make a small donation to a cause that’s impacted by Trump policies.

“Being here gives me a lot of hope, honestly,” said Wheeler, who carried a sign that read “Facts are not a liberal conspiracy.”

“Sometimes I feel kind of alone in my dismay, anger and sadness, but then I remember how many people are feeling in the same boat,” she said.

Barbara Evans, of Elgin, Ill., said she is optimistic that the protests will persist against Trump and that “he will get impeached sooner rather than later.” Evans said the energy of the anti-Trump movement is beginning to remind her of the Vietnam-era protests when she was a young woman.

“It’s very exciting to me to finally see a huge percentage of the population is waking up, getting energized and joining us,” said Evans, who described herself as someone who “held her nose” and voted for Hillary Clinton in November. “It isn’t just Trump. The Republicans have been moving further to the right for many decades and becoming more and more extreme. The Democrats have been moving to the right to catch up and go for those corporate donations. It’s been terrifying to watch.  Economic inequality keeps increasing and that’s fed the misery and discontent and the suspicion and resentment that led us to this moment.”

In Atlanta, more than 600 protesters were expected at an “ImPEACH Now” march — the group's Facebook page featured an image of a cut peach with Trump's face in place of the pit.

In Philadelphia, protesters were marching in a "Counter the Executive Orders" rally, according to the group's Facebook page.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., about 600 marchers were expected to attend a "Bad Hombres and Nasty Women" event Monday night, featuring "uncensored performances" and benefiting Planned Parenthood.

Monday's rallies come days after several weekend events in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles that called for the establishment of "sanctuary cities" in order to end immigration raids, NBC News reported. In Boston, hundreds of scientists marched to urge Trump to recognize climate change and tackle environmental issues. The rally coincided with the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

'Not My Presidents Day' rallies across the country

On Sunday in New York, more than 1,000 people rallied in New York City in support of Muslim Americans.

As he joined the crowd in Los Angeles on Monday, Peter Rothbard said attending the rally on Presidents Day is “sustaining energy for the resistance," adding: "We have to keep it up for four years.”

Contributing: Fredreka Schouten, Greg Toppo; Follow Greg Toppo on Twitter: @gtoppo

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