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Demonstrators protest near the White House in Washington, DC, for the Women's March on January 21, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of protesters spearheaded by women's rights groups demonstrated across the U.S. to send a defiant message to U.S. President Donald Trump.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP / Getty Images

After a day of historic protests across the United States and around the world, organizers are vowing to turn Saturday's marches into sustained political activism.

The women's marches drew more than two million people in dozens of American cities in an unprecedented rebuke to an incoming American president a day after his inauguration.

Now the real test for the marchers begins: taking the momentum generated by a spirited day of protest and channelling it into the less exciting, longer-term work of countering President Donald Trump's policy goals.

Read more: Highlights from the Women's March on Washington and worldwide

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Organizers recognized the challenge ahead and promised to meet it. "This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity," the co-ordinators of the Washington march wrote Sunday on Twitter.

The marches were a morale booster for the Democratic Party, still reeling from November's stunning election result. The protests could mark the kickoff of a kind of Tea Party movement from the left, in which citizens invigorated by their experience return home and throw themselves into the democratic process at the local level. Sparked in response to the election of President Barack Obama, the Tea Party was a conservative movement that helped transform the Republican Party, shifting it to the right.

Vanessa Williamson, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and an expert on the Tea Party movement, wrote an article urging participants in the march to engage in local organizations – school and community groups, religious institutions, unions, political parties, professional associations – not just with donations but with their own time.

"We can defend democracy if we practise it," she wrote.

Some research by political scientists has suggested that protests can have their own impact. Researchers examining protests by the Tea Party movement found that the demonstrations helped shape political attitudes, influence policy-making and generate votes for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm elections.

At Saturday's march in Washington, participants were already thinking ahead to the 2018 Congressional elections. Dianne Smalley, 68, from Falls Church, Va., said she planned to devote her time to "making sure there's a big change" in those elections next year. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are currently controlled by the Republican Party.

The march in Washington was a grassroots initiative organized independently from the Democratic Party, but it provided a much-needed shot in the arm for a party demoralized by the loss of the presidency and the Senate in November's election.

Many Democratic officials participated in the march, including senators from Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan and Delaware. Former secretary of state John Kerry, walking with his dog, joined the marchers for a stretch. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump's Democratic opponent, thanked marchers on Twitter for "standing, speaking and marching for our values."

At a rally during the Washington march, organizers urged people to text their names and e-mail addresses to a number set up for that purpose, the beginning of a database that can be used for organizing purposes. Speakers exhorted those present to "resist every day" and to flood their local elected officials with calls expressing their opposition to the proposals and cabinet nominees put forward by the Trump administration.

On Saturday, it was evident that Mr. Trump's election had jolted a certain part of the citizenry to action. One young woman carried a sign echoing the feelings expressed by many at the protest: "Thanks Trump, you turned me into an activist."

Gloria Blint, 58, of Pittsburgh, said that in the wake of Mr. Trump's election she began volunteering to help Syrian refugees and donated to the American Civil Liberties Union, both for the first time.

Ms. Blint and about 30 of her neighbours met after the election to discuss concrete actions they might take, dividing themselves into committees focused on different issues, such as supporting candidates in local elections. Saturday's march in Washington was the first time Ms. Blint had participated in a demonstration since the Vietnam War.

Other marchers said they were becoming more acquainted with the actions of their local politicians, subscribing to their local newspaper and donating to organizations like Planned Parenthood, which works to support women's health and reproductive rights.

Vicky Duffy from Quantico, Va., brought her two daughters, Denali, 10, and Kerala, 8, to Saturday's march. All three were wearing sashes in an homage to the attire of early crusaders for women's rights. Ms. Duffy said she had begun making calls to her members of Congress. She also signed up for the march's Facebook page and planned to follow future calls to action.

Many at the march acknowledged that Saturday was merely a beginning. "We're standing up and being counted and jump-starting what I hope will be a sustained movement," said Halvor Iverson, 67, of Boston. "We need to go home all charged up and energized and get to work."

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