The jam-packed week comes as the Washington area continues to navigate a still-raging coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has doubled down on instructions to out-of-state visitors: Wear a mask, keep your distance and, if you’re traveling from one of the 29 states deemed a hot spot, quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
The order has prompted many to make other plans. The National Action Network (NAN), which is organizing the Friday rally, canceled buses that were to bring hundreds of supporters from states such as Texas and Georgia, which have elevated coronavirus caseloads.
But others remained undeterred.
Some found a possible loophole in the mayor’s order: Demonstrators traveling from states as far away as California said they intend to stay in Maryland or Virginia and only travel into the District for the protest. Any visit less than 24 hours is considered “essential travel,” according to the mayor’s office, and would sidestep the quarantine requirement. Bowser’s order also exempts those two neighboring states.
Organizers have said participants will be required to wear masks. Hand-sanitizing stations will be set up, and volunteers will take demonstrators’ temperatures as they arrive. Face masks meant to curb the spread of the virus will be available to participants who show up without one.
Other events, such as the fireworks show planned by the Republican National Committee and a two-day demonstration organized by Maryland Republicans, have not specified what precautions they might take in deference to the mayor’s order. Neither event’s organizers responded to a request for comment.
As the Republican National Convention gets underway Monday, organizers of the civil rights rally, dubbed the “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks Commitment March,” will begin setting up a stage, seating and signage along the Mall to space out attendees into marked sections that run the length of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The signs will also include reminders about coronavirus safety guidelines.
The National Park Service has not yet granted a permit for the demonstration, but officials said that is likely to happen early in the week.
The week is expected to be a revolving door of events with thousands of people in and out of D.C.
On Tuesday, gatherings coordinated by Maryland Republicans and the Maryland Black Republican Council will take place at Lafayette Square and around the Ellipse, where attendees will remain through the afternoon and into “the late night,” according to a permit application recently filed with the Park Service.
The same group, which estimated the event would draw 10,000 attendees, will return Thursday afternoon ahead of Trump’s official GOP nomination.
After Trump’s acceptance speech, fireworks are planned near the Washington Monument. In a permit application, organizers said the event, which will start after 11 p.m. Thursday, will probably draw protesters.
People will begin to arrive for the civil rights rally early Friday.
Nearly a dozen other demonstrations calling for an overhaul of the criminal justice system and for racial equity are also scheduled Friday. Several will melt into the larger demonstration, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and featuring Martin Luther King III, the elder son of the civil rights leader. It will include several families of men and women who have been killed by law enforcement, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner.
It was not clear how many people are expected to attend the rally. On its permit application with the Park Service, NAN originally estimated 100,000 participants, although D.C. officials have said they expect the final number to fall short of that.
“The District of Columbia continues to work closely with event organizers to ensure that individuals can exercise their right to protest peacefully,” Chris Rodriguez, director of the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement Friday. “While this communication continues, it is important to note that mass gatherings, including for First Amendment activities, pose a risk of spreading the virus within our community.”
The other groups that requested permits to hold rallies around the larger march estimated participant numbers would range from about 50 to 500.
Black women on motorcycles will gather under the banner of Black Girls Ride, roaring into D.C. from around the country. Graduates of historically Black colleges and universities plan to pack the streets. Family members of dozens of victims of police violence will break off on a separate march to the Justice Department.
Satellite civil rights rallies are being scheduled around the country, including in cities where buses originally were chartered to bring hundreds to Washington.
Buses departing from areas where the spread of the coronavirus has waned, including New York, will continue as planned. Temperature checks and face masks will be mandatory for passengers who board a NAN charter bus, organizers said.
The NAACP has planned online programming for people who want to participate without venturing into a crowd.
The D.C. march will begin at the Lincoln Memorial before arriving at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park.
“The objective is to put on one platform, in the shadow of Abe Lincoln, the families of people that . . . have lost loved ones in unchecked racial bias,” Sharpton told the Associated Press this month. “On these steps, Dr. King talked about his dream, and the dream is unfulfilled. This is the Exhibit A of that not being fulfilled.”
NAN did not respond to several requests for comment.
In late May, daily protests erupted in cities around the country after the police killing of Floyd, whose death was caught on camera. In D.C. and other cities, the protests have continued daily for nearly three months.
The city’s Black Lives Matter Plaza has become a living monument to protests that shook the nation this summer. But the organic demonstrations that have crisscrossed D.C. do not boast speakers with boldfaced names or a glossy presentation.
Increasingly, they have focused on local issues — slashing the D.C. police budget and spotlighting incidents of police use of force — and ventured beyond downtown into neighborhoods, up to the front steps of elected officials’ homes.
While Sharpton’s rally aims to draw national attention to issues of racial inequality and injustice, D.C. activists have repeatedly criticized him for not including local organizers or shining a spotlight on local issues.
Still, D.C. activists said they are not planning counter-demonstrations “because that would be divisive.”
“[The march] should be more inclusive of the folks who are actually here, who live here, who have been out on the ground,” said Kerrigan Williams, 22, an organizer and spokeswoman for Freedom Fighters D.C. “No offense to Al Sharpton, but he’s just coming here to have a nice backdrop and have something that symbolizes the March on Washington, but by not asking any D.C. organizations to speak or say anything about the state violence that goes on here, that really missed the mark.”
NAN has also been criticized for not going far enough with its demands.
Mass Action Against Police Brutality, a Massachusetts group representing the loved ones of people killed by police, called on Sharpton to “meet the opportunity of this profound moment in history” by urging government agencies to reopen all cases of those killed at the hands of law enforcement.
“The powers that be always promise police reforms. The pressure is on them right now,” the group wrote in a letter to Sharpton and his organization. “The biggest gesture that would show they are serious about reform is to prosecute police for the incidents that have already occurred.”
Though the event is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Friday — with the march starting about 1 p.m. — attendees are expected to begin arriving about 7 a.m.