WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. â Wearing strings of bright LED Christmas lights around their necks so they could find each other if they got separated, Elizabeth Smiley and Suzie Barton joined about 1,200 others in a protest march in West Palm Beach Saturday night, hoping to show Donald Trump and his Mar-a-Lago guests that many Americans donât agree with the way heâs running the country.
âSo much of what heâs doing is scary for so many people,â said Smiley, 55, a social worker in Palm Beach County. âWe canât just sit back and let it happen without saying something. This is all about making sure our voices are heard.â
Itâs unclear if Trump actually heard any of their messages. Ensconced in the ballroom of his Palm Beach estate, he and his guests could have easily missed the entire march, which strung out along the waterfront Flagler Drive across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mar-a-Lago, and stretched across a half-mile bridge to Palm Beach. It was Trumpâs first trip as president to what he calls the âwinter White House,â and it fell on the same weekend as the annual Red Cross ball. More than 500 guests were expected to attend the gala, which is the annual highlight of the Palm Beach social scene. Trump has attended the charity event often over the past 20 years.
But the sprawling complex on the south end of the island of Palm Beach is walled off from the public streets. Guests being chauffeured to and from the ball may have passed the march, but otherwise, they would have missed it entirely.
âSaw some at the south gate,â one Mar-a-Lago guest said. âNo big deal.â
Carrying glowsticks, flashlights and even light-up hula hoops, protesters chanted as they walked toward Trumpâs beachfront property. Several dozen Trump supporters chanted back, but the rally, which stretched over two miles, was peaceful, according to West Palm Beach Police spokesman Sgt. David LaFont.
The march was originally supposed to stop before the bridge that leads from the mainland to Palm Beach. But when protesters Sarah-Helen Land and her wife, who were at the front of the march, got to that spot, nobody stopped them.
âSo we just kept on walking,â Land said. âAnd here we are, chanting and singing and letting Trump know that weâre not going to sit still. Weâve come too far to go back.â
Many marchers said that even if the wealthy guests at the ball didnât notice them, it felt good to be part of the protest anyway.
âThe feeling of solidarity and shared purpose means a lot these days,â said Lea Brown, a pastor and Landâs wife. âThere have been a lot of marches, but this is just the beginning. When will we get tired of marching? Never.â
Dozens of officers from the Palm Beach Police department, Secret Service agents, and deputies from the Palm Beach County Sheriffâs department, including a line of officers in full riot gear, greeted Brown and the other marchers at the back gate of Mar-a-Lago.
âIf you stay on that side of the road, youâll be fine,â Palm Beach Public Safety Director Kirk Blouin said through a megaphone to the crowd at the gate. âCross the road, and youâll be arrested.â
Sandy and Johnny Kaye stood outside the gates, chanting with the rest of the crowd.
âMaybe they canât hear everything weâre saying if theyâre in the ballroom right now,â Sandy Kaye said, âbut Iâm pretty sure theyâre going to have to turn the music up louder to drown us out.â