Protesters hold rallies across the US ahead of Donald Trump's impeachment vote

An “Impeach and Remove” rally in Times Square in New York on Dec 17, 2019. PHOTO: NYTIMES

DETROIT (WASHINGTON POST) - Demonstrators in big cities and small towns across the United States rallied on Tuesday evening (Dec 17) for President Donald Trump's impeachment, ahead of the historic step the House is expected to take on Wednesday while bemoaning that the push to oust him is almost certain to die in the Senate.

Protesters in the dark of a snowy New England evening chanted "Dump Trump", while those marching in the warmth of southern Florida brandished signs reading "Impeach Putin's Puppet".

In Republican-dominated Kansas, they repeated a mantra: "Country over party."

In Texas, they fretted that despite the House's vote, Mr Trump still will get away with it all.

Organisers said that there were more than 600 protests nationwide - from Hawaii to Maine - with the goal of demonstrating "to our lawmakers that their constituents are behind them to defend the Constitution".

In many places, they functioned less as a chance to vent about Mr Trump's Ukraine dealings - the matter for which he is being impeached - than as an opportunity for collective catharsis over the entire track record of a president disapproved of by slightly more than half the country.

Most of the rallies drew dozens, or, at most, hundreds. Their relatively modest scale reflected the difficulty Mr Trump's opponents face in mobilising voters around ejecting the President when the chances of doing that before the 2020 election appear vanishingly small.

"Tomorrow, we will impeach Donald Trump!" organiser Jessica Prozinski announced to cheers as a crowd of 125 bundled together against the freezing cold here in downtown Detroit.

But she said that it would hardly be the end of Trumpism, or of Mr Trump himself, and forecast a "long and bumpy" path ahead.

Speaking with a bullhorn - and competing with music blaring from a nearby office tower - Ms Prozinski, 44, made quick mention of "the whole Ukrainian phone call thing" while emphasising "Trump's real crimes against humanity".

Among them: "stealing babies from their mothers' arms", "putting a sexual predator on the Supreme Court" and "praising neo-Nazis".

At the mention of each alleged offence, the crowd issued its verdict: "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" Many said their objections to Mr Trump were so voluminous that it was difficult to know where to start.

"There's so much," said Ms Tenisha Speight, a 40-year-old accountant, who said Tuesday's protest against Trump was her first. "I don't believe in him. I don't like how he's transforming America, and I want him out of office."

The Detroit protest was one of about 20 planned in Michigan. Many were sparsely attended and might look especially small compared to the rally Mr Trump plans on Wednesday at an arena in Battle Creek, where about 10,000 are expected.

Michigan was among the traditionally Democratic states that Mr Trump claimed in 2016 and that Democrats likely will have to flip back into their column if they hope to win in 2020. It's also home to a pair of freshman Democratic congresswomen in swing districts who wavered on impeachment nearly until the end but ultimately came out for it.

One of them, Ms Elissa Slotkin, acknowledged on Monday at a rowdy town hall with her constituents that she might lose her seat as a result.

Some of Tuesday's rallies were outside the offices of House members who will be voting on Wednesday and senators who, assuming the House approves impeachment for just the third time in American history, will serve as jurors in Mr Trump's impeachment trial starting in January.

Tuesday's protests were called by an array of progressive groups, including political advocacy organisations, environmental defenders and labour unions.

The protests were collectively dubbed the "Nobody is Above the Law" demonstrations, and were coordinated by, a group that got its start 21 years ago urging Republicans to end their pursuit of then President Bill Clinton's impeachment.

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Surveys show that Mr Trump's impeachment is far more popular than Mr Clinton's ever was. But the country remains entrenched in rival camps, with about half favouring it and half opposing it. Public hearings this autumn barely moved the needle.

Organisers had hoped that Tuesday's protests might end a "demonstration drought" that has characterised much of Mr Trump's presidency. The early months of his administration were marked by frequent street action - for women's rights, for science, against the travel ban.

But in contrast with many other parts of the globe - Hong Kong, Iraq, Chile and others have been the scene of history-making protests in recent months - America's streets have been reasonably quiet in the past two years.

Mr Trump on Tuesday decried the impeachment process in a six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying "more due process was accorded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials".

"History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade," he wrote.

But there was little sympathy for the President's plight among those who took to the streets.

"Merry Impeachment," read the sign Ms Pat Barnes cradled as she rallied in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

But Ms Barnes, who also sported a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sweater and flashing Christmas lights around her neck, was quick to put a damper on her own festivities. If the House came bearing an early Christmas gift, she believes the Senate will deliver a lump of coal in the new year.

"I think if the senators voted with their conscience instead of with their party, they would remove him from office," she said.

Retirees Gayle and Don Fox brought their two dogs to the protest. The couple said it was their second time protesting against Mr Trump and his policies, but this time feels more urgent.

"If they don't impeach him, we're going to have to riot in the streets," Mrs Fox said.

"If he gets away with everything he's done, what about the next president?"

The pro-impeachment demonstration was met by a small counter-protest of Trump supporters.

"If they think they're going to get him out of office," said Mr Bob Burd, a retired municipal employee gripping a large US flag that flapped gently in the warm breeze, "they're in for a big surprise."

On a cold night in Kansas, where an early snowstorm left the red state blanketed in white, about 400 pro-impeachment demonstrators lined an intersection in Overland Park, to wave signs, exhort drivers to honk their horns and generally show support for Democrats in Washington working to impeach the President.

Mr Al Frisby, the chairman of MoveOn for Johnson County and an organiser, said he was pleased by the turnout; the snow from a Sunday storm still stood about six inches deep and the mercury was set to plummet to 15 deg C.

"But I'm depressed," he said. "This is a sad and solemn occasion and I don't like it. But we have to do it."

The perceived lawlessness of the President's administration also was a consistent theme among protesters in Portland, Maine, where more than 300 people bundled in coats and scarves gathered amid a snowstorm.

"This guy really said he can do whatever he wants?" said Ms Lorraine Christensen, 72, referring to Mr Trump's famous statement that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue without losing support. "That's reason enough" for his removal, she said.

In the affluent Texas community of West Plano, about 100 people rallied for Mr Trump's ouster.

"He broke the law," said Ms Jessica Romeroll, 47, as she held a sign aloft and shouted at passing cars.

"It's scary how he asked a foreign nation to investigate a private citizen. And it's upsetting how our congressmen won't hold him accountable."

Some protesters walked through the crowd making sure everyone was registered to vote. Others talked about how they called and sent letters to their congressman every day.

But underneath it all was a worry that none of it will be enough.

"If he gets away with what he is doing, he is going to continue to behave like he has," said Ms Tegan Greaver, 33. "And our future leaders will think they have free rein to act like kings."

As the sun set in Santa Barbara, California, on a cool impeachment eve, Ms Nancy Stuyt, an abstract artist, got down on her knees, magic marker in hand and a square of white poster board on the walkway in front of her.

There was nothing abstract about the message she wrote out in red and blue, as the light around her faded to gray: "Fight for our rights. Impeach him."

"I marched in the 1960s for women's rights, I grew up in the south so know what that was like," said Ms Stuyt, a 68-year-old who has lived in this coastal city for the past 3½ decades.

"Donald Trump is taking apart everything we fought for."

She was among about 300 people who gathered Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse to make their angry, hopeful position known.

"Impeach and remove," one sign read, prompting honks of support from drivers heading down Anacapa Street at the end of the work day.

"This kind of rally is helpful to those of us who have been depressed by this President," said Ms Myra Paige, 66, a retired synagogue office manager and an event organiser with the non-profit Indivisible Santa Barbara. "Camaraderie helps."

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