Thousands march through Philly to protest Trump's visit

Demonstrators gather in front of the Municipal Services Building in center city Philadelphia before President Trump's visit January 26, 2017 to speak to the congressional GOP members.

More than 5,000 protesters clogged Center City streets Thursday in a noisy, drum-banging demonstration to oppose the presence and policies of President Trump on a day that was by turns wet and windswept.

Trump’s arrival at the annual GOP congressional retreat, held at the Loews hotel on Market Street, turned the heart of Center City into a control zone where dump trucks blocked streets, steel fencing stopped protesters and pedestrians, and scores of police officers packed near every street and corner.

Five days after 50,000 marchers jammed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway -- joining more than a million women’s rights protesters around the world -- a smaller number came out for a midday protest, many of them then hurrying back to work.

“We're scared,” said Chris Friel, 59, of Bryn Mawr, who said she was worried that American society would be ruled by the administration’s “alternative facts” and not truthful information. "We’re terrified."

Many in the crowd outside the hotel booed and shouted obscenities as the presidential motorcade arrived around 12:40 p.m. Trump waved back from inside the limousine.

On a nearby under-construction building a banner proclaimed, “Welcome to Philly President Trump. You’re hired.”

>>President Trump in Philly: Click here for the live blog recap

 

Yana McCue, 35, an immigrant from Ukraine, wore a pink shirt with “Trump” written across the front, a lone supporter in a sea of opposition. Demonstrators called her names – and she called back. They shoved signs in her face – and she shoved back.

“I think he’ll make America great again, how it was 20 and 30 years ago,” said the Jefferson University Hospital nurse. “Jobs are going to China and Mexico.”

A Philadelphia police officer on the scene said he took an American flag from a man dressed in black who was using a knife to sharpen the end of the PVC pole. The officer said the man was detained, and police found powerful M-80 firecrackers, pipes, hammers, and lighter fluid in his backpack. Police reported one civil citation but no arrests throughout the day.

The president arrived in a heavily Democratic city where many people oppose his ideas, goals, and policies. Trump came here a day after Mayor Kenney rebuked the president's move to strip federal funds from sanctuary cities and insisted there would be no change to Philadelphia’s treatment of immigrants.

Kenney's public schedule included no events involving the president.

Instead, he wrote an opinion column saying he hoped Republican visitors would see Philadelphia as a diverse, welcoming city -- and urging them to go to a Mexican restaurant in South Philadelphia owned by an undocumented immigrant.

An Inquirer editorial Thursday proclaimed that “the early days of the Trump administration are suggestive of a tin-pot dictatorship.”

Demonstrators sought to contest an array of presidential initiatives, from the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to more stringent immigration laws, to Trump’s cabinet picks, to his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border. The protests began Wednesday night, when a thousand people massed outside the hotel, and picked up in the rain Thursday morning.

By lunchtime, several thousand people had gathered on Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall, while about a hundred pressed as close to the hotel as barriers would allow. 

From his office on the 11th floor of the Wanamaker Building, Jeremy Niedt spent the morning looking down at the protesters – then made his way to the street to pass out free doughnuts to demonstrators.

“I kept looking out the window,” he said, adding that he wanted to help.

On Paine Plaza, much of the sign-holding, flag-waving crowd was middle-aged – hardly the angry anarchists of an earlier era. Many described themselves as concerned citizens who are alarmed by what they see as a radical shift in American politics.

Some recalled taking part in the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s, when Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon were the targets of collective ire.

“In the ‘60s, people fought an illegal war. Now we're fighting an illegal president,” said Stephen Miller, 73, of West Mount Airy.

Many people rallied against the planned repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which provides insurance to millions of Americans. Trump and the Republicans seek to kill the program but have not yet offered an alternative.

“I would not be alive if not for the Affordable Care Act,” said Ashley Vogel, 26, of South Philadelphia, who was struck by stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She’s healthy now, but requires specialized scans every six months. What happens, she asked, if her insurance is taken away?

“It all feels very unstable now,” she said. “When your government is not listening, it’s a life-and-death struggle."

A group of about 3,000 left the plaza and marched to City Hall, turning on Market Street – where they passed a food truck, the metal-on-metal clank of the spatula wielded by worker Lakas Sophides, 50, offering a tinny counterpoint to the protesters banging drums. None of the demonstrators stopped to buy food. And regular customers were kept away by the commotion.

“Bad day,” Sophides said.

In his wheelchair, German Parodi of Philadelphia helped lead the march. He gets health care because of the ACA, he said, and he urged those afraid of losing insurance to act. Call your senators, he told them.

“Trump's doing something every single day,” he said. “So we need to be doing something every single day.”

Across the street from the Loews, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to reporters gathered at the Marriott hotel.

“This is going to be an unconventional presidency,” Ryan said. “That's something we're all going to have to get used to.”

A large coalition of activists took part in or endorsed the protests, including ACT-UP Philadelphia, the Center for Popular Democracy, Put People First! PA, Housing Works, and POWER. Many of those present were office workers who stepped out on their lunch breaks.

Christina Jones, 41, said she was attending her third protest this week.

“There’s so many bad things going on right now,” said her 15-year-old daughter, Sierra, “and I want to make a difference.”

In the late afternoon, several hundred protesters rallied in the Rittenhouse area, then marched onto Chestnut Street, chanting, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” They met a group near City Hall, swelling the crowd to 1,000 and attempting to move to the Loews.

Rami Levi, owner of Gold Galore, a jewelry store at 11th Street and Market, closed his shop amid the protest, worried that people might smash his windows.

“This killed the whole day for me,” said Levi, 50. “It’s my livelihood.”

Staff writers Alfred Lubrano, Mensah M. Dean, William Bender, Aubrey Whelan, Jason Nark, Maria Panaritis, Michael Matza, Mari A. Schaefer, and Luis Ferré Sadurní contributed to this article.