President’s Day was originally established on George Washington’s birthday to honor the first president.
But thousands refused to bestow the same honor on President Trump on Monday, as activists in at least two dozen major cities participated in “Not My Presidents Day” rallies in opposition to the 45th president.
The protesters took to the streets concerned about a broad range of issues, from the president’s immigration policies, to his treatment of the press, to his rhetoric some said reminded them of authoritarian regimes or fascism. While the demonstrators differed on the meat and potatoes of their opposition, many of them said they feel he doesn’t represent their interests.
“Donald Trump stands against the progress we have worked hard to enact,” reads the Facebook page organizers for the New York City event created. The rally, they said, was to “honor previous presidents by exercising our constitutional right to assemble and peacefully protest everything Donald Trump stands for,” as well as remind elected representatives home during the congressional recess “who they represent.”
The rallies in cities that included New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles come as the nation is more polarized over Mr. Trump than any other president in the last 30 years.
“Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents loathe his performance, per approval polls. But Republicans and Republican leaners remain as happy with Mr. Trump as ever. They’re not swayed by what critics see as chaos in the executive branch,” wrote Peter Grier for The Christian Science Monitor on Monday. “This is a reminder that most of the people who put Trump in office are content to wait and see how his policies develop. He promised to fix border security, beat ISIS, stamp out crime, drain the D.C. swamp, and give people great health care. Trump supporters want to see if those things happen – or not.”
Some of the largest turnouts for Monday’s rallies were in Los Angeles (1,000) and New York (13,000), according to organizers and the New York City Mayor's Office, as AM New York reported.
In Los Angeles, city resident Susan Walker said she hoped the protests had the same effect as those in opposition to the Vietnam War she participated in the 1960s.
“We got Congress to hear us,” she told USA Today. “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."
In New York, Maria Amoldinado, of Yonkers said she attended the rally because of President Trump’s immigration policies and the specter of authoritarianism, which she related to her family’s emigration from the Dominican Republic.
“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,” she told USA Today.
In the nation’s capital, marchers expressed their opposition to a range of issues by scrawling their messages on posters and fliers, according to The Washington Post.
Their messages “ranged from concerns about attacks on scientific research and illegal immigration to the more generic 'Love Trumps Hate.'” People chanted “Water is life” — the slogan for environmental protests at Standing Rock, N.D. — and ‘Black lives matter,’ ” wrote the Post’s Susan Svrluga.
But in some places the protesters were met with some Trump supporters. In front of the White House, a man with a megaphone told the marchers to go home and “Leave Trump alone!” In New York, a man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat engaged in a mix of heated and light-hearted exchanges with protesters, according to USA Today.
The protests didn’t remain entirely peaceful either. The Oregonian reported that in Portland, there were several arrests, although it was unclear how many were detained and what charges they faced.
The rallies happened to coincide with findings that the president’s approval rating is widely split between Democrats and Republicans. Only 8 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they approve of Trump’s current job performance, the single lowest figure in over 30 years, the Pew Research Center found. But 84 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they approve of Trump.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the number of demonstrators the New York City Mayor's Office and organizers estimate attended the Manhattan rally.