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Estimated 75,000 to 100,000 protesters rally for Women's March on Madison

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Rivaling the massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 anti-union legislation in 2011, a crowd police estimated at between 75,000 and 100,000 people marched on the state Capitol on Saturday to voice concerns over rights and causes they fear will be endangered by Donald Trump’s presidency.

As they marched up State Street to the Capitol for the Women's March on Madison, women, men and children held signs in support of women's reproductive rights, public education and the scientific consensus of global climate change, among other causes. The march was one of hundreds of "sister marches" around the world to coincide with the Women's March on Washington.

While the vast majority of people at Madison's march and rally at the Capitol expressed disapproval of Trump, Kristopher Gasch, 34, said he was not protesting against anything, but was demonstrating in support of equal rights and inclusiveness.

"It's the diversity that makes this county great," said Gash, of Port Edwards. "We're not going to be silent." 

Gasch held a sign that read: "God made us gay. Common sense made us march for women's rights."

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Deb Corning, of Lake Delton, listens to a speaker from the steps of the state Capitol during Saturday's Women's March. Speakers called for unity and kindness in a time they say is ruled by hateful rhetoric.

Nomi Rivers, 54, of Madison, said she came to the march in support of many causes she fears will be ignored under the Republican majority in Washington, including women's health, inequality and climate change.

"There seems to be a sort of icy tunnel vision on (the Republican) side, and I'm concerned that some of the issues that were important to people who weren't supportive of (Trump) are going to be drowned out," Rivers said.

As a biracial woman coming from a mostly white family, Rivers said she felt alone in her feelings after the election because her family did not feel the same pain that she did. She said the positive energy of the march and rally made her feel less alone and more hopeful for the future she wants for the country.

"It's energizing," Rivers said. "I'm hoping that other people who are saying, 'Oh I can't do anything' realize that yeah, you can."

Rivers, who has attended dozens of protests to voice political opinions and participate in the right of assembly guaranteed in the First Amendment, said she doesn't believe that voting is the only way to influence politics.

"I do believe that the more we're heard, the more we can raise our voices up, there are better chances that somebody in Congress is going to hear us and maybe won't do that critical vote that's going to be harmful," Rivers said.

At the university end of State Street, Planned Parenthood handed out signs to protesters reading: "Don't take away our healthcare." 

Many women carried their own homemade signs with "My body, my choice" and other slogans in support of women's reproductive health choices. One protester held up a pink, crocheted uterus. 

Planned Parenthood, which provided women's healthcare, has faced increased restrictions and funding cuts in the past years under Republican administrations in Wisconsin and the nation. Nicole Safar, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said she fears more restrictions and a complete defunding of the organization. 

"We're here to say we're not fighting about this anymore," Safar said. "The public is with us, it's good, solid policy, and people need access to healthcare." 

About 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's work is related to abortion care. Its clinics also offer cancer screenings and other preventative health services.

While promoting its own cause, the organization was also there to "stand with our brothers and sisters in the fight for dignity and justice," Safar said.

"This isn't just a protest, this is a movement that's been happening across the country," Safar said. "It's not just about Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, it's about safe communities and workers' rights and economic justice."

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Anna Purnell performs with the Forward! Marching Band during the Women's March up State Street to the state Capitol on Saturday. More than 75,000 people marched in support of causes including equal rights, women's reproductive healthcare and public education.

The chants that typically mark political protests were sparse as the march moved up State Street. Some people called out "No justice" for a response of "No peace," but after three or four cycles the crowd grew quiet again. Protesters instead let their signs and clothing speak for them.

Pink hats made of felt and yarn with corners designed to mimic cat ears were worn as a symbol of women's solidarity. The patterns for the homemade hats were shared online in the week's ahead of the protest.

Jim Martin and two male friends came to the march with signs commemorating Martin's partner Sara Ramig, who died about two years ago from cancer at age 62. They were together for 35 years.

Martin said he did not march for Ramig, but rather with her spirit. Ramig was "very progressive" and came to protests multiple times, including the Act 10 protests.

"She wouldn't want people to lose their healthcare and die of cancer," Martin said.

People from around Wisconsin came to the protest. Wendy McCloud, 54, drove from Ashland County by herself because she felt compelled to participate in the rally. 

"I really, really hate the us and them concepts," McCloud said. 

Since Trump's election, McCloud said, she has asked herself "what else can I do" to help people. She is currently a special education teacher, but is now considering running for an elected office despite being shy.

"I hope more people will decide to do the grassroots thing and get this started from the bottom up," McCloud said.

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Ellen Holly, a middle school teacher in Elkhorn, chants along in route of Saturday's Women's March.

As marchers continued to pour into Capitol Square, feminist bands and speakers explained their causes from the steps of the Capitol. Speakers included a transgender activist, a public school teacher and student poets. All spoke of the need for inclusiveness and kindness.

Madison police Lt. Kelly Donahue said no arrests were made in connection to the rally.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.