In center of Women's March on Washington, a St. Petersburg organizer

A crowd fills Independence Avenue during the Women's March on Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A crowd fills Independence Avenue during the Women's March on Washington, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Published Jan. 22, 2017

WASHINGTON — Lisa Perry spent so much time volunteering at Hillary Clinton's St. Petersburg campaign office that she felt her daughters, 5 and 3, had sacrificed for the cause, too. On the evening of Nov. 8, she hugged Livvie and Ellie close before heading out the door to the Clinton victory party.

"I was actually crying because I was so happy, and I told them they were going to be so proud of what America was about to do. I told them they would remember this day for the rest of their lives," said Perry, 37, who the next morning could not look her girls in the eye to tell them Donald Trump would be the next president.

"I just decided to start organizing," said Perry. She wound up leading three busloads of activists from Pinellas to Washington, D.C., for what turned into a historically massive rally Saturday in the nation's capital that triggered rallies in St. Petersburg, across the country and across the world, drawing millions.

The Women's March on Washington crowd so surpassed the 200,000 expected that it swamped the district's metro system and forced a switch in the marchers' route. In St. Petersburg, an estimated 20,000 people showed up to protest. It added up to an extraordinary show of dissent to a new president who won without taking the popular vote. Time will tell whether it signals a rekindled progressive movement that participants hope it does.

"I'm here because I refuse to be silent any more," said Bradenton resident Rebecca Desch, 40, among more than 25,000 Floridians who marched in Washington. "I have always been very careful to not be too vocal in my opinions and my beliefs because I didn't want to offend anybody. Clearly that didn't work. I think there were too many of us who did that, and look what happened."

The Washington marchers filled the heart of America's capital, a sea of mostly women and countless pink "pussyhats," referencing the crude comments Trump made in an old Access Hollywood video.

"You did it!" someone in the crush of the crowd shouted to Perry, the Pinellas captain for the women's march, as hundreds of Florida residents marched along Independence Avenue toward the National Mall.

"WE did it," shouted back Perry, who later met singer Katy Perry (no relation), who escorted her into the VIP area.

The energy and passion apparent in Washington and some 600 similar marches across the globe on Trump's first full day in office was often missing from Clinton's campaign, which often struggled to draw crowds more than a fraction the size of Trump's.

On Saturday, every conceivable sign — funny, crude, angry, poignant — dotted the capital.

"I'm with Meryl"

"We are the noisy majority"

"Women's rights are human rights"

"Viva La Vulva"

"Make Sexism Wrong Again"

"I love America"

The speakers at Washington's rally included celebrities from Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansson to musicians, activists and politicians.

"We can whimper, we can whine or we can fight back," Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said at the Boston march. "Me, I'm here to fight back."

Clinton tweeted her own support: "Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values @womensmarch. Important as ever. I truly believe we're always Stronger Together."

Many of the women and men attending the events said Trump's upset victory brought home the danger of complacency and they intend to keep the "movement" fired up to challenge Trump's agenda and mobilize for elections.

"Too many people believed all the media hype that Hillary Clinton was going to win," said Perry, suggesting that every ounce of energy she put into coordinating Pinellas activists was on behalf of her daughters' future.

At a premarch breakfast for Floridians at the Library of Congress, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, noted the 20-something women in the room. She said they probably could not imagine the America she grew up in, where she discovered her 15-year-old friend bleeding to death from a "back-alley abortion" and how women needed a husband to obtain credit cards.

"We will not go back! We will not go back!" U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, chanted with the crowd after recounting the civil rights advances made over the last few decades by women, minorities and gay Americans.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, who is expected to face a tough re-election challenge from Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, sported a pink scarf to show his solidarity.

"May I be an honorary sister?" Nelson asked.

"It involves a pay cut," one woman shouted back.

The marches served as a balm for progressives still shocked by Trump's victory. Individual marchers stressed a host of issues — rights for women, gays, immigrants, protecting Medicare — but mostly they wanted to send the new president a message and a warning.

"It's not a protest against the fact that he was elected, and it's not a protest against the inauguration," Perry said. "What it is is us saying he is now the president of the United States and he represents all of us and so much of his administration's agenda threatens the fabric of what holds this nation together and what makes us great. We're saying we're here, and we're not going to let you take away our rights."

"And it says, 'We're watching everything you do and when you start stomping on basic rights we're going to be there to resist,' " added April Hartley, an artist from St. Petersburg, who donned a cape declaring, "Hell hath no fury like a woman fighting the patriarchy."

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.