How the Women's March splintered into rival protest groups
The third annual Women’s March is returning to Washington this week amid inclement weather, ideological schisms and the longest government shutdown in American history.
The original Women’s March in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of protesters; the exact size of the turnout is still subject to politically charged debate, but it’s generally regarded as the largest Washington protest since the Vietnam era. This year, organizers submitted a permit application estimating up to 500,000 people but the actual turnout is expected to be far lower. Parallel marches will be held in dozens of U.S. cities.
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Organizers had originally planned to gather Saturday on the National Mall, but with the forecast calling for snow and freezing rain Saturday and the National Park Service no longer plowing the snow, the march’s location and route was altered this week to start at Freedom Plaza and march down Pennsylvania Avenue past the Trump International Hotel.
This year’s march has also been roiled by an intense ideological debate. In November, Teresa Shook, one of the movement’s founders, publicly accused the four main leaders of the national march organization of anti-Semitism. This accusation was targeted specifically at two primary leaders: Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American with a long history of criticizing Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory, who has maintained a longstanding association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Shook, a retired attorney from Hawaii, has been credited with sparking the entire movement by creating a Facebook event that went viral and snowballed into the massive Jan. 21, 2017 protest. In a Facebook post, she claimed Sarsour and Mallory, along with fellow organizers Bob Bland and Carmen Perez, had “steered the Movement away from its true course” and called for all four to step down.
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The four march organizers have denied the charge, but Sarsour has publicly expressed regret that they were not “faster and clearer in helping people understand our values.”
Despite pleas for unity, an alternate women’s march has sprung up in protest and will be holding a parallel rally in New York on Saturday a few blocks away from the official New York Women’s March protest.
The alternate group, called March On, has coordinated hundreds of marches in cities such as Boston, Houston, Baltimore and Denver.
“There is definitely huge, huge focus on the 2020 elections,” said March On’s Natalie Sanchez, an organizer of the 2017 Boston Women’s March who is also with March Forward Massachusetts, which is leading Saturday’s march there.
Leaders of both groups say they will use this year’s marches to push policy related to raising the minimum wage, access to reproductive and healthcare and voting rights, among other issues. They are aiming to mobilize women to vote ahead of the 2020 elections, when Trump is expected to be the Republican nominee for president.
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Leaders of Women’s March and March On say there is a role for everyone.
“We are all part of the same movement, regardless of any divisiveness or any drama that goes on,” Sanchez said.
—With files from Reuters