For two years, the Women’s March has cultivated an image: fiery protests, rallies, sit-ins, arrests and women taking to the streets en masse with catchy slogans, chants and songs.
But a month before its rally on the Mall, the group has announced a change in course.
At the Jan. 19 march, the organization plans to unveil a federal policy platform it is calling “the Women’s Agenda” that will outline a 10-prong call to action for lawmakers. The agenda will pinpoint “realistically achievable” priorities, such as raising the federal minimum wage, addressing reproductive rights and violence against women, and passing the long-dormant Equal Rights Amendment, officials said.
“Once we have this platform, we intend to organize around it, to mobilize around it and . . . we will consider it to be marching orders from our movement,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, chief operating officer of Women’s March Inc. “And we will bring about swift political consequences to those who oppose us.”
The focus on creating an actionable doctrine comes as the organization is trying to ramp up support for its march amid accusations of anti-Semitism and ongoing controversies surrounding Women’s March leaders’ ties to the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan.
In response, the group has redoubled efforts to reach out to Jewish women and will update its guiding document, known as the “unity principals,” to include explicit support of the Jewish community, O’Leary Carmona said.
“I think anti-Semitism in general and anti-Semitism on the left is a conversation that has gone unspoken for a long time,” she said. “And I, for one, am grateful that the Jewish community is willing to step into this dialogue with us.”
It may not be enough to win back some of the group’s most vocal former supporters, who have publicly cut ties with the organization and called for its four co-chairs — Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — to resign.
O’Leary Carmona said the Women’s March has seen little impact on its reach as a result of the controversies, but the group’s Facebook page has been littered with comments from women around the country saying they will not be attending the January demonstration.
In an application to the National Park Service, organizers estimated more than half a million people would attend.
That is unlikely to happen, said Dana R. Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies and tracks protest movements.
“I think that something big and bad would have to happen for there to be over 100,000 people in Washington, D.C., this time around,” she said.
The first Women’s March on Washington, on the day after President Trump’s 2017 inauguration, brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the District and inspired solidarity rallies around the globe.
In January this year, following a year of protests and demonstrations against various Trump policies, the D.C. march attracted about 75,000 people, according to Fisher’s data. Those numbers were possibly buoyed by a government shutdown that incensed protesters and enabled several lawmakers to address the crowd.
Fewer than 7,000 people have responded on Facebook to say they are interested in attending the march next month.
The Women’s March announced the shift in focus to its local leaders, who manage the group’s affiliate groups, in a virtual meeting this past week.
“We have big wings — we are very wide right now — but we’re going to be looking at depth in the next couple of years,” O’Leary Carmona said.
The issues the group ultimately will tackle will be determined by about 50 people organized into committees, based on area of expertise. The committees will largely consist of members of Women’s March organizations and partners, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.
Once a platform has been created, O’Leary Carmona said, the group will key on raising awareness and support among policymakers through its traditional methods of rallies and public demonstrations, as well as more conventional strategies such as lobbying.
“It’s a policy platform, but it’s also a work plan,” she said.
The idea of transforming the Women’s March into a more traditional political machine stemmed from watching the trajectory of organizations such as Amnesty International and the Podemos political party in Spain, which grew out of inequality protests, O’Leary Carmona said.
But the shift from outside agitators to inside influencers is one few organizations have successfully pulled off, Fisher said.
“Historically, groups that march in the street don’t tend to start advocating. There have been clear distinctions between groups that are rallying people outside of institutional politics and people who are working within it,” she said. “The Women’s March has shown itself to be extremely good at organizing what I would consider to be kind of confrontational events. They’ve proven that they’re good at that. The idea that now they’re going to shift to advocacy work with some sort of policy platform — I don’t know.”
Fisher said among what sometimes are called resistance groups, formed in the wake of Trump’s election, several are focused on lobbying and have built an infrastructure around that work.
Although the Women’s March intends to train members to become better lobbyists — taking their advocacy from the streets and into Congress — Fisher said the strategy may not be playing to the group’s greatest strength.
“I think that where their relevance lies is continuing to build on their capacity for confrontational politics, and if the Women’s March decides to go in a more institutional direction — pushing an agenda through Congress by lobbying — I think that’s going to be a heavy lift for them,” she said. “Maybe they could pull it off, but it’s a big shift.”