A sea of umbrellas and protest signs filled Falls Park in the cold rain as Greenville joined hundreds of thousands across the world Saturday who organized under the banner of women's rights, one day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
The event — a sister rally to the main Women's March on Washington that sparked thousands more marching on major cities in Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and North and South America — was billed as a non-partisan gathering.
But the messages that echoed throughout the presidential campaign opposite Trump's statements and policies were made clear in Greenville's signature venue, both in words from speakers and in protest signs.
"Keep your tiny hands off my healthcare." "Mind your own uterus." "Girls just want to have FUNdamental rights."
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The themes spilled over into concerns over racial equality, gay rights, immigration policies, cuts in education spending, military build-up and other issues not specifically related to women's issues.
The participants, mostly women but also a significant number of men, filled the Falls Park amphitheater entirely and lined the steps and ledges above and along Furman College Way and part of the Liberty Bridge.
Event organizer Michelle Gardner said the group estimates about 2,000 people attended the two-hour rally at its peak.
"We were all so proud of our fellow Greenvillians for coming out on such a nasty day and supporting us," Gardner said. "It was a huge success, and we made about 2,000 new friends."
Police were on hand to provide security, but no major disruptions were present. There was no noticeable counter-protest, and the crowd dispersed peacefully.
The Falls Park rally wasn't the only event in the Upstate. About 500 people participated in a march in Clemson, walking from Littlejohn Community Center down State 93 to the Strom Thurmond Institute theater on campus. The events joined other marches in Columbia, Charleston and Asheville.
Greenville rally 'is about bringing people together'
In Greenville, speakers included religious leaders and minority and gay rights activists, along with members of the crowd who were invited after formal speeches to speak on the microphone.
Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming was a featured speaker and spoke about the local struggles she and others endured 50-plus years ago during the Civil Rights movement.
“I never thought that 50 years later I’d be still out here trying to fight for the same rights," Flemming said. "It's 2017, and it looks the same to me. I'm here to ask you to be reminded of what used to be, but remember — we ain't going back."
On the Liberty Bridge, Michael Channing and Connie McCollum of Greenville pushed a stroller with their 14-month-old daughter inside, behind a sheet of plastic to protect her from the rain.
McCollum held a sign that read "Not my daughter's president."
McCollum said that she is concerned that the president's comments during the campaign regarding women — particularly a video capturing him commenting about crudely grabbing a a woman and then dismissing the remarks as "locker room talk" — will cause a negative shift in rape culture.
"That really scares me," she said. "Hopefully, by the time my daughter starts school and she's not under my wing, this will all be over."
McCollum's husband said that the turnout in the rain and cold showed how passionate a minority voice in the Upstate can be.
"For women to come out and know that other people will stand with them, that's comforting for a lot of people," Channing said. "This kind of gives me hope for Greenville."
Aja Wright, a Greenville native, attended the rally with two friends and said she hopes the event can be a "jump-start for great things."
"I love the support, especially in the city of Greenville," she said. "I just felt like I had to do this. It's very good to see all walks of life come together."
The Women's March Facebook page for Greenville on Saturday evening showed 1,800 people as registering having attended the rally. The venue had originally been the ONE City Plaza before so many people indicated on the page that they would attend.
With the interest level, Gardner said the group has created another page — Upstate Coalition for Equality — to build momentum from the Falls Park event. The page had nearly 1,000 members on Saturday evening.
Mike Ellis of the Anderson Independent-Mail contributed