“Let the black women lead,” organizers shouted as hundreds of demonstrators marched up Pennsylvania Avenue. “If you are not a black woman, you should not be at the front.”
As two marches converged in the District on Saturday, protesters streaming past the Capitol toward the Justice Department sought to highlight racial injustices and the disadvantages faced by black women in particular. The March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women held independent rallies in the morning, then met in the Capitol Hill neighborhood to march together, eventually ending on the Mall.
Farah Tanis, one of the organizers of the March for Black Women, said the timing of the simultaneous events was intentional — she heard about the March for Racial Justice and wanted to host a separate march to focus on struggles black women face. Tanis, who came to the District from Brooklyn, said she appreciated the recognition black women were given on Saturday.
“That didn’t happen in the civil rights movement, or in the women’s rights movement,” Tanis said as she marched, a quartet of drums playing in the background. “It shows we are going in the right direction.”
The March for Black Women began at 9 a.m. in Seward Park, where activists spoke for nearly three hours about subjects including domestic violence, the wage gap and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolling back Title IX protections.
The March for Racial Justice began at 10 a.m. in Lincoln Park, half a mile away, where speakers focused on police brutality and encouraged those gathered to engage in grass-roots activism rather than showing their support via social media.
“In order for things to start changing, you can’t just take a knee,” said activist and Rev. Stephen Douglass. “You’ve got to take a global stand.”
The marches were at least 1,000 strong by the time they merged at Lincoln Park. As they marched toward the Capitol, residents emerged from their rowhouses on East Capitol Street, offering water and high-fives of support.
The diverse crowd, which included toddlers, college students and veterans of the civil rights movement, chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
At points, police urged demonstrators spilling onto the roads to stay on the sidewalks.
“I pay taxes for these streets,” activist Ana Rondon retorted. “You can’t tell me to get out of the street.”
In front of the Capitol, tourists on a double-decker sightseeing bus peered down as the marchers in colorful T-shirts, carrying “Rise and Resist” signs and waving a “Love Trumps Hate” flag, passed below.
The marches fell on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which organizers said they had not realized was Sept. 30 when they applied for permits. Organizers for the March for Racial Justice apologized and said in a statement that their “mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.”
But Betsy Teutsch, a 65-year-old Jewish writer, said she did not mind marching on the holiday and wanted to show her support as a white ally to the black community.
“I find marching is a very sacred experience,” said Teutsch, of Philadelphia. “You’re with a large collective. This is a chance to express Yom Kippur in a different way.”
Teutsch, like many of the marchers, said President Trump’s election underscored for her the need to get out and protest, and to address the racism that for too long has not been acknowledged in society.
“I’ve protested more in the last year then I have in the rest of my life,” she said, laughing.
To Pamela Muir, a graduate of the University of Virginia, the deadly unrest in Charlottesville this summer following a white supremacist rally felt like a “sucker-punch in the gut” that made her all the more aware about racial tensions in the United States.
“If we are silent, then we are complicit,” said Muir, a 54-year-old substitute teacher from Fairfax County. “I used to think that being a good citizen just meant voting. Now if my representatives don’t hear from me for a week, they’re surprised.”
To protest the policies of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has rolled back Obama-era efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug offenders, black women turned their backs and raised their fists in front of the Justice Department. Other marchers knelt.
In front of the Trump International Hotel, some demonstrators paused to hold a “die-in” where they lay down to honor those killed by police.
Tessa Brewer, who is white, said growing up with two black brothers meant she has long been aware that police were likely to treat her differently from her brothers, which made her aware of racial injustice from a young age.
“Most people have hobbies, like athletics and art,” said Brewer, 20. “This is what I focus on.”
She had the names of 47 black victims of police brutality written in black marker on herself. Brewer said she researched the stories behind each of the names.
“I’m wearing 47 names, but there are hundreds more,” she had written on a yellow sign.
Kelyn Soong contributed to this report.