Donald Trump took office Friday, but the cheers heard Saturday in Pendleton weren’t for the new president.
Hundreds of people gathered at Pendleton City Hall for the Women’s March on Pendleton, a companion to the main rally in Washington, D.C.
Turnout was larger than expected — although around 150 people said they would attend the march on Facebook, organizers eventually told the crowd that the protest ended up attracting 425 people in support of various liberal causes.
The marching route was originally planned to wind through Pendleton’s downtown area with stops at several downtown restaurants before finishing at the Heritage Station Museum. While the march did start at city hall and end at the museum, the overabundance of participants meant marchers were redirected to walk toward the Umatilla County Courthouse while Pendleton Police Department vehicles provided an escort.
Before the march began, organizers told the protesters that the event was nonpartisan and wasn’t geared toward criticizing any specific politicians, but the specter of Trump’s inauguration still loomed over proceedings
On the steps of the courthouse, a series of speakers addressed a crowd flush with homemade signs and fluorescent pink “pussyhats,” a reference to recorded comments Trump made in 2005 to an Access Hollywood host about grabbing a woman by her genitalia.
Amanda Hull of Pilot Rock described herself as a “pretty hardcore feminist” and said she was marching because she was already concerned about some of Trump’s early actions as president.
Within hours of being sworn in, Trump signed an executive order to “minimize the economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act, which allows government agencies to stop enforcing certain regulations associated with the law.
Katrina Dielman of Pendleton also said the Affordable Care Act was one of the reasons she was protesting, adding that she had family members that benefited from the health care law.
Carrying a pink sign in the shape of a cat’s head with the words “We Shall Overcomb” (the cat’s hair resembled that of the president’s), Dielman said she was on her way west to join the Portland Women’s March but turned around when she heard there was a march closer to home.
One by one, speakers recited speeches not just addressing women’s rights, but also covering racial justice, environmental preservation, police brutality, immigration, access to health care and LGBT rights.
On signs and on shirts, members of the crowd displayed their support for the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, Black Lives Matter and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.
Despite the variety of issues the marchers wanted to tackle, women’s rights remained central to the reasons many locals decided to march on Pendleton.
Stephanie Williams-Stregge of Hermiston said she was marching on behalf of her 10-year-old daughter, both as a woman and in support of public education.
“Everyone deserves access to public education,” she said.
Clad in a Rosie the Riveter outfit, Sarah Short of Pendleton said she used the opportunity to talk about the wage gap between men and women.
Dressed in traditional tribal garb, Carrie Sampson said she was marching for her three young daughters, with special consideration for the higher levels of domestic abuse and sexual assault Native American women face.
As the march drew to a close in the Heritage Station parking lot, protesters gathered to sing “We Shall Overcome” and “This Land is Your Land” before the crowd dispersed back into town.
Interviewed on Monday, Police Chief Stuart Roberts said the march was “pretty unremarkable” from a public safety standpoint, the only incident coming from some young people trying to join the march and cause trouble before being deterred by the sight of police.
Roberts said organizers met with police when applying for a parade permit for the event and created contingency plans with them.
In his experience, Roberts said the police have never dealt with a political demonstration that large, but he credited the group for sticking to the rules and avoiding conflict.
A similar event in La Grande drew about 250 people, according to the Blue Mountain Eagle, and the Union-Bulletin reported 2,000 marchers in Walla Walla.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.