Beginning on Monday, the week of activities will include a story slam, brunch with drag queens andorganizing sessions focused on three of the organization’s cornerstone issues: reproductive rights, immigration and climate change.
The week-long series is the latest in a cascade of changes the group has undergone since September, when the organization’s three inaugural — and controversial — board members were replaced by a diverse cast of 16 women amid allegations of anti-Semitism, infighting and ineffective leadership.
The shake-up comes at a critical time for the organization. With the 2020 presidential election approaching, experts have said it can no longer afford the distractions and controversies that have muddled its message and loomed over its every move.
By refocusing on grass-roots activism and supporting local leaders, the new board is responding to long-standing criticism that the organization had become too self-involved, while ignoring the national network of activists it has inspired.
“We can’t just be in crisis response mode,” said Isa Noyola, co-president of the Women’s March. “Yes, the world is on fire. Yes, we have an administration that is constantly attacking us … and that’s all scary. But we also have to kind of ground ourselves in this moment and figure out how to make connections and grow in a way that is sustainable for the bigger fight.”
There will still be a march, however.
On Jan. 18, protesters will gather at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to walk a well-worn path to the White House.
Unlike previous Women’s March events, this year’s protest will not feature the pomp of boldfaced names addressing the crowd and musical guests performing on a stage.
In fact, there won’t be a stage at all.
Instead, the group’s 16 board members will march alongside protesters carrying signs and banners. Once at the White House, a group of Chilean activists will lead participants in a song — “Un violador en tu camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”) — popularized by feminist protest movements worldwide and meant to denounce gender-based violence.
The anthem, typically sung by a group of women wearing blindfolds and dancing to an electric beat, has been performed by groups of female protesters in countries including France, India, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and Venezuela.
“Women’s March began as a single day mobilization and a collective demand for a better future for women,” Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the chief operating officer of the Women’s March, said in a statement. “Collective liberation cannot be won by individual tactics; we can only win together.”
Board members, many of whom have led nonprofit and activist organizations before joining the Women’s March board last year, said the group has for months been brainstorming ways to refocus the organization — and its signature annual event — on participants and the issues they care about.
Last year, the organization conducted a poll asking longtime Women’s March participants about their main concerns going into 2020. Reproductive rights, immigration and climate change rose to the top.
Organizers expect about 10,000 people to attend the Jan. 18 march, according to a permit application filed with the National Park Service.
Last year, the third annual Women’s March drew far fewer participants than in previous years — a fact that observers attributed to a number of controversies that consumed the organization for months leading up to the event.
This year, hundreds of sister marches are planned around the country and worldwide, in countries such as Belgium, Germany and New Zealand.
Protesters have chartered buses from several states, including Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, to get to the District for next week’s events.
Experts who study protest movements have noted that current events — including the impeachment of President Trump and a rapidly escalating conflict with Iran — could draw protesters to the march who might have otherwise stayed home.
“Next week is really going to be about sustained, unified and ongoing resistance to the Trump agenda,” said Rinku Sen, co-president of the Women’s March. “Whatever is moving people to come — threat of war, threat to our democracy, threats to women and their bodies, whatever is motivating them — they are all welcome.”