Reno, nicknamed "The Biggest Little City in the World," isn't exactly known as a hotbed of political resistance. A small group of people protesting Columbus Day and the Dakota Access Pipeline was purposefully hit by a car under the city arch back in October. The day after Donald Trump's election, the Reno Gazette-Journal estimated the turnout for the ensuing protest was "at least 100."
So the organizers of Saturday's Reno women's march had low expectations, especially because it had been snowing like crazy and University of Nevada, Reno students were still on winter break. Nevada is an open-carry state, and there were safety concerns. Felicia Perez, a founder of the Reno Solidarity Network and one of the march's speakers, told me she "thought if 200 people show up, it's a win for Reno."
But just before 9 a.m., the fenced-off streets in front of the federal courthouse began to swell with foot traffic. When marchers looked around to check themselves out, they saw a sea of fellow Northern Nevadans. It was the biggest assembly in the city's history, larger than the anti-war marches of the '60s and the 2006 immigration reform protests; 10,000 people attended, according to the Reno Police Department.
On Saturday, opposition to President Trump and his administration manifested in massive marches in large coastal cities like Washington, Los Angeles and New York. Less anticipated, however, was the explosion of resistance in smaller cities and towns across America. And while the Women's March on Washington faced criticism for centering on the experiences of cisgender white women — a historically repeated navel-gazing made ever more insulting to minority communities by the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump — Reno's march was indigenous-led, and organized by activists of many races, religions, sexual orientations, abilities and gender expressions. White women stepped back during the day's events and highlighted the long-standing advocacy work of communities of color.
When the marchers reached City Plaza, Janice Gardipe of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony offered a gentle blessing before Perez jumped onstage and turned the event into a rock concert:
"Buenos Dias! Good Morning Biggest Little Marchers! Que Viva La Mujer! Welcome to the resistance!"
She talked about the rage, sadness, and shock that she'd felt since Trump's election. "I am the daughter of migrant parents. I am a queer, latinx woman of color. I am only alive today because of the Affordable Care Act. And yes, THIS IS what a woman can look like," she shouted, ripping her pink pussycat hat off to reveal her bald head. The crowd exploded in cheers.
Helen Fillmore, a UNR student pursuing her master's degree in hydrology and a descendant of the Washoe Tribe, got the biggest applause of the day when she repeated the Dakota pipeline organizing slogan: "Water is life." In Nevada, where mining has polluted many water supplies, the message resonated.
"We pray that those who say they walk with Christ start acting like they walk with Christ," Verita Black Protho, a local boutique owner and self-labeled progressive Christian, told the crowd. "In the Old Testament through the New, we're told to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. This whole thing they call 'tough love'—that's not mentioned in the Bible."
A woman kept running to the front to ask the speakers to talk louder for those in the back. The woofers were rattling from overload.
Meanwhile, alt-right media were working overtime to discredit the massive D.C. march and media reports of non-record-setting inauguration attendance figures, arguing that only wealthy liberals or "coastal elites" could get to Washington.
That doesn't explain what happened Saturday.
As Cindy Norris, an older white woman who attended with two friends, told me: "I'm here because for the first time in my life I'm standing up for something I believe in. Too many times I've sat still while bad things happened, and I'm not going to do it anymore."
Like Norris, each person I spoke with at the Reno march lived in Nevada, and each had hopes for the communities that were incompatible with Trump's agenda. Lots of so-called "real" Americans are mad as hell too. And whether their states went red or blue, an astounding number of those in the middle are beginning to organize.
"The past four years I've been living here, I've been like, Reno's not ready," Perez told me after the march. "But they're ready now."
Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her @velvetmelvis on Twitter.