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Nearly 100,000 join Women's March in St. Paul as crowd estimate moves up

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Demonstrators gathered outside of St. Paul College before the Women's March Minnesota in St. Paul on Saturday, Jan 21, 2017, where an estimated 60,000 people rallied in solidarity to stand up for women's rights in light of the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Special to the Pioneer Press: Liam James Doyle)2 / 3
Demonstrators flood John Ireland Boulevard on their way to the Minnesota State Capitol building during the Women's March Minnesota in St. Paul on Saturday, Jan 21, 2017, where an estimated 60,000 people rallied in solidarity to stand up for women's rights in light of the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Special to the Pioneer Press: Liam James Doyle)3 / 3

ST. PAUL —An estimated 90,000 to 100,000 people — nearly five times the expected number — formed a blocks-long protest from Cathedral Hill to the State Capitol on Saturday morning, Jan. 21, for the Women's March Minnesota.

It was the largest protest in St. Paul since an estimated 10,000 marched to protest the war in Iraq during the Republican National Convention in 2008.

Early police estimates pegged the number at 60,000 — still far beyond the expected 20,000, but Saturday evening a police spokesman said he agreed with organizers' estimate of between 90,000 and 100,000.

The event was one of hundreds held around the world Saturday, as people rallied to protest the inauguration of President Donald Trump and to express support for a variety of concerns, including women's rights, protections for minorities, education, the environment and health care.

Shortly after 10 a.m., almost an hour before the march was due to start, participants were overflowing the parking lot at St. Paul College, the starting point. As demonstrators waited for the march to begin, many expressed concern and anxiety about what they worry may happen under the administration of President Donald Trump.

"I am marching because ever since the election, I've just been fearful," said Andrea Ellingboe, a special education teacher from St. Francis. "My primary concern is the future of our country — health care, education, the environment. It's just scary."

Jill Wagner of Minneapolis held a sign that read "I can't believe we're protesting this again."

"We marched for women's rights and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s and we still don't have them," she said. "I'm trying to get past fear."

About 11 a.m., protesters began the march away, and the mood seemed to grow more upbeat, with drummers, dancers and a larger-than-life puppet lending an almost parade-like feeling to the head of the march. Participants chanted "Black lives matter!" and "This is what democracy looks like!" as they moved up the street.

At the intersection of Kellogg Boulevard and John Ireland Boulevard, demonstrators met with other participants who hadn't been able to fit in the parking lot and formed a slow-churning throng that stretched almost all the way to the Capitol.

Among the demonstrators, women vastly outnumbered men, but several male protesters said they saw the issues at hand as ones that transcend gender.

"Women are leading it, but these things ought to bother everybody," said Joe Nauerberg of St. Paul.

The crowd was so large many people couldn't reach the State Capitol grounds. Those who did heard from elected officials, including Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, civic leaders such as the Rev. Nekima Levy-Pounds and activists such as polar explorer Ann Bancroft.

Carrie Allen of Red Wing, Minn. held her sign before the march Jan 21, 2017 (Special to the Pioneer Press: Liam James Doyle)For context, a sellout crowd at a Wild game at the Xcel Energy Center is a bit under 20,000, while the largest arena in Minnesota, U.S. Bank Stadium, reaches capacity at a little higher than 65,000. In 2015, the attendance for the final night of the Red Bull Crashed Ice event at the Cathedral of St. Paul was estimated at 140,000.

March organizers and police had been planning for a crowd of 20,000, but a police spokesman reported no major problems from the larger turnout.

"We did a lot of work on the front end with the organizers," said Steve Linders, a spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department. "We always put plans in place that allow us to staff appropriately should the numbers get bigger."

He said one counterprotester was arrested after a confrontation with protesters. Marchers told police the man who was arrested had sprayed a chemical irritant into the crowd.

Linders said the crowd hadn't caused any problems other than the expected traffic delays. At one point, Interstate 94 was gummed up with lines of cars waiting to take downtown St. Paul exits that stretched for nearly a mile.

Several protesters said that buses and Green Line light-rail trains into downtown St. Paul were packed.

Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr said "every available train at our disposal" — Metro Transit has 86 — was put into service Saturday.

"All of our train cars were full. All of our buses were full," he said. "We had known this was coming and we had planned for it."

St. Paul wasn't the only Saturday march that turned into an in-place demonstration. Marches in Chicago and Washington were converted to rallies because of unexpectedly large turnouts.

With the entire route filled with hundreds of thousands of protesters, Washington organizers said they couldn't lead a formal march toward the White House. So many people turned out for the Women's March in Chicago that organizers there canceled plans to march through the city's downtown. Instead, they planned to extend the ongoing rally on the city's lakefront.

Worldwide, there were 637 Women's Marches on Saturday.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service, of which RiverTown Multimedia is a member.

RiverTown Multimedia video by Michael Brun