The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In their words: Women’s March activists on the movement, two years later

Attendees cheer during the second Women’s March on Jan. 20, 2018, at the Lincoln Memorial. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Millions of women across the country and around the world joined in protest on Jan. 21, 2017, for the Women’s March on Washington. For many, it was an eye-opening experience that propelled them into activism they never knew before.

Ahead of the third annual march, controversies arose around the national Women’s March organization. Organizers have tried to redirect attention by unveiling a political platform called the “Women’s Agenda” while planning the Washington protest but have been dogged by questions of alleged anti-Semitism, a trademark dispute over who owns the “Women’s March” name, rumors of infighting and opaque financial dealings.

Can the Women’s March movement overcome a year of controversy and division?

Some women have been weighing whether to attend or support the Women’s March. Many have opted to turn out for local organizations largely unaffiliated with the national group.

After the 2017 march, The Washington Post solicited responses to an online survey of women who participated in Women’s March events across the country. The Post followed up with several women this week to see what they planned for the third iteration of the march.

These are their responses, edited for length and clarity.

Addie Sochats, 39, Pittsburgh

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March on Washington.

In 2019: Plans to attend the Women’s March in Pittsburgh.

Then: I believe the Women’s March is making impacts in bringing awareness and slowing down the “bull in the china shop” mentality of this president. I run an “Action a Day” Facebook group, and I have also become a member of two progressive groups in the Pittsburgh area. I’m also attempting to get involved in the support of Democratic candidates in my district. I didn’t know about any of this before Jan. 21. Since so many people were motivated after the Women’s March, I have gotten local friends more involved in the local political scene.

Now: I still run the Facebook page, “Action a Day,” and we’re about 400 or so people strong. I try to push one or two actions that people can take every day to help — especially right now with the shutdown. We’ll be attending the Pittsburgh Women’s March on Saturday, and I’ll be taking my kids with me. We’ve been affected by the shutdown, and so I’ve really been aiming my activism toward that and the people affected. I heard about the Women’s March controversies at a high level, but don’t know too much. We all just need to come together and support everyone in this. Mostly, I want to keep the momentum going, and as a white woman who has a lot of privilege over other people, we just need to come together and support everyone in this. I’m trying to be an ally in any way possible to people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks or whomever they may be.

Barbara McIlvaine Smith, 68, West Chester, Pa.

In 2017: Organized a bus to take women to the Women’s March on Washington.

In 2019: Plans to attend the Women’s March in West Chester, Pa.

Then: I think that the movement has evolved from a rolling boil to a simmering boil. Those who have engaged in specific political actions are making a difference, but not a big splash. I have not been very active. My rolling boil has dropped to a simmer, mostly because I decided I’ve had my turn at politics (I was a state representative for four years), and now it’s my daughter’s generation that is stepping up to the plate. That gives me hope. They have more energy and the smarts to get it done.

Now: I think it’s important to show up again to really just let Donald Trump and those people who think he’s wonderful know that there are still many more of us who believe he is a detriment to this country. I think it’s important for us women to be involved and to make our voices heard. We need to say we’re still here, and we’re still angry.

I had heard there was some infighting in the Women’s March between Jewish women and black women, and I’m a Native American woman and I think it’s ridiculous that we’re dividing ourselves like this. We’re all ­women. Let’s not get down to the pettiness of “I don’t feel welcome” because we don’t all agree on everything. I don’t think people should feel like they need to be invited. You’re a woman, just show up. We’re all in it together.

Marilyn Lewis, 70, Juno Beach, Fla.

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March on Washington.

In 2019: Plans to rally in downtown Palm Beach, though no official march is scheduled.

Then: I absolutely think this movement has been successful. It has energized people like myself to actively engage in a dialogue with our representatives. The last time I was politically active like this was in 1972 regarding Roe v. Wade. I will not give up now! I have marched in the Tax March, the March for Science, a march for climate change and in front of Brian Mast’s office to protest his supporting the AHCA. We need to approach our local politicians and hold them accountable. I have joined groups called Speaking Up for America and Speaking Up for the Environment.

Now: I have become the ­biggest activist since that first Women’s March. It changed my life. I live just outside of West Palm Beach, and I have been in front of Mar-a-Lago many times with a sign. I’m really great at signs. It’s so fun making them. I’ve been to Marco Rubio’s office so many times they know me there. I wanted to come up to D.C. for the March for Our Lives, but I can’t be flying up to Washington all the time. So, I got a bunch of my girlfriends together and we went to Parkland instead. I’m not going to D.C. this year, because honestly I haven’t heard that much about it and I don’t think it’s been promoted very well. Also, with the shutdown, I worry that D.C. is just going to be a mess. I’ve seen stories about trash and garbage in the parks everywhere, and so I decided not to come. To be honest, two years ago was the real march. I was there for the real deal.

Elizabeth Bechand, 60, Wynantskill, N.Y.

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March in New York.

In 2019: Plans to attend the Women of Color March in Albany, N.Y.

Then: I am highly motivated to take action in protest of the actions of the current administration. I have joined the League of Women Voters. I write letters and send emails or make phone calls at least once a week to share my opinions about current legislation at both the state and national level. I marched in Albany on April 15 to protest the president’s refusal to release his taxes. I marched in Albany again on April 22 to show my support for scientists across the world. I wish I was retired so then I could do more. I am planning to help register new voters with the League of Women Voters next month.

Now: I signed up for the Women of Color march in Albany, because I feel that there are certain things I took very much for granted — respect for people of other ethnicities, respect for women. There are so many values I feel are being threatened and if we don’t show that we’re taking notice, and we won’t stand for it, things in this country could slip even more.

I read somewhere that a certain Women’s March was postponed because they thought it would be all white people or mostly white people, and maybe because I am a white woman, but I would hope that the march has not made anyone feel unwelcome. The march I’m attending is called the Women of Color March, and my feeling is that I’m happy to support it because they are really being as inclusive as possible. Just because you choose to support something doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything the leader says. I would hope people go to these marches for the right reasons. I just want to carry my sign and show that I care about my country, which is what’s really the most important.

Laura Brevitz, 55, Tamworth, N.H.

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March on Washington.

In 2019: Plans to attend a local Women’s March in New Hampshire.

Then: Hundreds of thousands of women showed up to protest and let others know the power of their own convictions, whether spoken or not. I had done zero before. The Women’s March was the first time I had literally done any kind of activism. Now I regularly contact my members of Congress and tell them the positions I hope they take and why. I’ve donated to various groups that provide assistance to groups under attack — the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Anti-Defamation League and others. I’ve attended various marches and plan to continue. I participated in a live-stream event put on by the ACLU to set up further local resistance. I am nowhere near done.

Now: I can’t get down to D.C., though I would love to. So I will probably be going to one or both of the rallies here in New Hampshire. I have a few rotating signs I can take, but I’m thinking I might make a new one. I have never been this active in my life. The election galvanized me to go to that first Women’s March and once I was there, it was such a wonderful time. I had never seen so many people in one place in my life. It was massive and worldwide, and the momentum has not stopped.

Vicki Bicket, 68, Barstow, Calif.

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

In 2019: Plans to attend the Women’s March in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

Then: I’ve always been kind of a moderate, really. I worked for the government in Social Security, and we weren’t supposed to get into partisan politics.

I am registered as a Democrat but have never voted straight-ticket. I voted for many Republicans in my life, but can’t believe that now they have put party above the country.

The county where I live is pretty red, so I follow an Indivisible group on Facebook, though I have missed some of their events. I did go to a science march in Riverside, Calif., and an Earth Day event in San Bernardino.

I got really depressed after Trump was elected, and I felt like we have to do something. I couldn’t just stand by anymore.

Now: I’ve gone to a lot of marches since then, in California and Las Vegas — I protested after the travel ban, and went to the Women’s March again last year to help register voters.

I want the Trump administration to know we’re not going away. That they’re not going to continue to get away with whatever they want. If we stop, if we just sit down, we’ve seen what evil comes of it.

I want to go to the Women’s March in Los Angeles this year, but it sounds like they’re in disarray, so I’m not sure. I read that one of the original founders had been involved in questionable groups that were anti-Israel or something, and then I was looking at what Vegas had planned and they had something on their website that said, ‘We’re not related.’ Seemed they were trying to distance themselves from it, so maybe I’ll go there and support them instead.

Karen McGady, 62, Columbia, Md.

In 2017: Attended the Women’s March on Washington.

In 2019: Plans to attend the Women’s March in Annapolis.

Then: I am energized, but I don’t know if it is having any impact on the president or his cadre of evil cronies. I am helping candidates develop outreach materials. I am also involved in a local group, have called and written elected officials about a number of issues that are of concern, and I speak out, person to person, about what is going on. I have tried to get others involved. Our very system of government is under attack — not to mention our very basic rights and freedoms.

Now: I’m appalled at the government shutdown. I’m appalled at the way President Trump treats immigrants and people fleeing their homes for fear for their lives. I am appalled at the tariffs — I see prices at the grocery store rising because of his harebrained policy. It’s a complete and unmitigated disaster.

I’ve heard about the controversies with the Women’s March, though, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I heard there was a lot of anti-Semitism, which is stupid and evil. I find it very off-putting. My heritage is Jewish, and I find it offensive that there’s even a question. At this point, any ­people who carry prejudice against other people for things they can’t help like skin color, religion, country of origin, religious heritage or cultural heritage, I find that absurd and offensive. So, I’ll probably skip D.C. this year and just support my local huddle, or my local Indivisible group.

Read more:

Will Jewish women attend the Women’s March amid allegations of anti-Semitism?

Women’s March rolls out political platform before its third Washington rally

What’s in a name? Women’s March groups spar over who owns the name and the movement.

Anger over Farrakhan ties prompts calls for Women’s March leaders to resign