Chattanooga: Thousands of women, activists march in solidarity for human rights [photos]

Chattanooga protest is among largest in city's recent history

Melody Cromer cheers in Coolidge Park during the Chattanooga Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Thousands of demonstrators marched locally from Coolidge Park to the Aquarium in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. and across the nation.
Melody Cromer cheers in Coolidge Park during the Chattanooga Women's March on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Thousands of demonstrators marched locally from Coolidge Park to the Aquarium in solidarity with protesters in Washington D.C. and across the nation.
photo Women march in Chattanooga to protest the election of President Donald Trump.

As a woman with a microphone chanted about power and equality and the need to have it now, now, now, Melody Cromer sat in the front row, nodding and shouting.

Two American flags tied with wire to her camping chair, Cromer joined about 3,000 other people at Coolidge Park on Saturday, hoping their new president would take notice. The march in Chattanooga to protest potential policies of President Donald Trump was among about 670 other cities across the state, the nation and the world.

But Cromer, 57, would only stay for the beginning part, when locals packed the park aside the Tennessee River to make signs, chant and listen to speeches. Her body wouldn't let her march.

She has a metal plate and six screws in her left foot, the result of a fall from an 8-foot-high dumpster in 1996. And a slip at a store last year left a cracked vertebra and a bulging disc.

Of those gathered, Cromer was an outlier: She voted for Trump in November. She liked that he promised to put more people to work. But between the election and Friday's inauguration, she regretted her choice.

Republican congressmen talked of repealing the Affordable Care Act outright, as opposed to tweaking it. Cromer worries she won't be able to afford her medication in the future. She heard reports about the Russian government secretly backing Trump during the campaign, and that just doesn't sound right.

And then, earlier this month, someone shared with her a leaked audio recording of Trump talking about wanting to have sex with a woman, about how when you're a star "you can do anything grab 'em by the [genitals]." Even though the recording preceded a media firestorm in early October, Cromer did not hear it at the time.

Trump later apologized for the statement, calling it merely locker room talk.

"It's disgusting," said Cromer on Saturday, adding that she was sexually assaulted about 20 years ago. "It's not just talk. This is a mindset that starts the behavior. This is why women get raped: because some men think that it's just talk."

Across the world, protesters gathered in cities to share similar sentiments. Trump has only been in office for one day, the protesters in Chattanooga conceded. He hasn't done a whole lot yet. But he's said a whole lot, and they don't like what he's said, and they believe his talk will translate into action.

An estimated 500,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. And aerial photos showed packed streets in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, Seattle and Boston, as well as cities in other continents.

Begun as a Facebook post after Trump's victory, marches will launch into a sustained campaign of protests across the country, organizer. Specifically, they are rallying for abortion rights, protection for immigrants and civil rights issues. Last week, Obama suggested that liberals hoping to oppose Trump should take a page from the playbook of the Tea Party, a faction of Republicans that frequently protested throughout Obama's presidency.

For his part, Trump did not publicly address the protests Saturday. According to The New York Times, he started his day at a National Prayer Service, a tradition for new presidents.

In Chattanooga, a group of about 12 women organized Saturday's march, said Sherri Nakamoto, 47. They felt discouraged by Trump's election and wanted to find like-minded thinkers. Hearing about the national movement, they launched their own Facebook event to advertise a march, inviting several speakers.

"We will continue to move in a progressive and compassionate manner as we tolerate nothing less than the equitable treatment and respect of all our citizens," said Kat Cooper, the executive director of the Nooga Diversity Center.

Said America Gruner, head of Dalton's Coalition of Latino Leaders: "(The Trump administration is) trying to instill fear in you, saying that we are criminals, that we come to steal, that we come to kill people. We are not. We are workers. We are human beings."

Said Ash-Lee Henderson, of Concerned Citizens for Justice: "I ain't scared of no Trump."

As they marched, carrying signs that read "Another Nasty Woman Against Trump" and "What Would Jesus Grab?," a light dusting of opposition met the protesters. One man in a "Make America Great Again" hat yelled, "He's our president!" Another, waving a blue Trump flag, shouted "You guys lost! Get over it!"

But they still marched by, from Coolidge Park, down Frazier Avenue, across the Market Street Bridge. Police officers working the event told the group to take a left, to head up a hill, then down the Walnut Street walking bridge, where the march would end.

Instead, the group walked past the officers, down Market Street, toward the Tennessee Aquarium. They blocked traffic, and they chanted their opposition to the president.

Staff photographer Doug Strickland contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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