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‘I march for all women’: Thousands gather for third Women’s March after year of controversy

Photos of the third annual Women’s March in Washington

Jan. 19, 2019 | Protesters arrive for the third annual Women's March at Freedom Plaza in Washington. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Protesters from across the country marched through the nation’s capital Saturday for the third annual Women’s March on Washington, an event that drew far smaller crowds than in previous years as controversy plagued its leaders.

Organizers had hoped to see hundreds of thousands of attendees, the kind of turnout that made the 2017 march a seminal moment in the protest movement against President Trump. But Saturday’s march in the District appeared to attract only thousands, mirroring lower turnout at marches in New York, Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

The march occurred amid turmoil surrounding the national Women’s March organization, including allegations of anti-Semitism, secretive financial dealings and disputes over who gets to own and define the Women’s March. Some organizers have called for its national co-chairs to resign.

The Women’s March in Year 3: Can the movement overcome a year of controversy and division?

None of that acrimony was on display Saturday as boisterous protesters set off to march from Freedom Plaza. They had reason to celebrate. The movement the march helped spawn was crucial to flipping the House to Democrats and electing an unprecedented number of women to Congress.

The marchers walked behind a banner that read “The Women’s Wave Rises” and chanted “Hey Hey, Ho Ho! White supremacy has got to go!”

Sadiqa Reynolds, president of the Louisville Urban League, called on unity among women of all backgrounds. To roaring applause, she told the crowd there is no place in America for racism or exclusion.

“I represent black women, who can take no comfort in silence,” she said. “We are not angry. We have simply swallowed so much pain it is oozing out of our pores and it comes out like fire, hot enough to burn just one more person.”

Maya Valentine, 23, a student at Simmons University in Boston, echoed that sentiment. “A lot of times, whenever we organize and stand up for a cause, we forget black women, and women of color have just as much relevancy,” she said.

Protesters marched through the nation’s capital on Jan. 19 amid controversy within the movement. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post, Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

The march route took protesters by Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Some lingered in front of the hotel, turning their signs toward its main entrance. An all-female block of drummers hammered out a thunderous beat and twirled their sticks in unison to cheers from the marchers.

The ubiquitous “pink pussy hats” that have become the symbol of the march gave the event a familiar feel, but one issue distinguished this year’s proceedings: a partial government shutdown that was into its 29th day.

Marchers also highlighted a panoply of other issues. Some protested Trump’s plan for a border wall, others highlighted reproductive rights and many called for an end to the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from some majority-Muslim countries.

Stephanie Wesolek, 28, stood beside her 8-year-old son, Blaine, who carried a poster around his neck with the words “Boys will be . . . good humans,” a message she wanted to send to Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“Little boys need to realize they can’t grow up to be jerks like them,” she said, adding that her son “needs to see all these people and realize how important this is.”

Matthew Giedt, 59, a retired school administrator who lives in San Diego, said he planned a trip to Washington to see the “Burning Man” exhibit at the Renwick Gallery but was thwarted by the government shutdown. He and his wife, instead, spent their time “exercising their right to promote getting the government back into operation.”

Giedt carried a sign that read: “Mr. Trump tear down your government shut down.”

He tied the sign to a twig he found outside the Hay-Adams Hotel and fixed it with a broken shoelace. Giedt said he was impressed with the energy of the march and its lineup of speakers.

March leaders delivered impassioned remarks rebuking the news media and rejecting the controversies that swirled around the organization in recent weeks. They promoted their newly released political agenda, celebrated the record number of women elected to Congress and spoke of the importance of an intersectional movement led by women of color.

“When you listen to critics, ask yourself this question. Show me another woman-led, large mobilization force like us . . . It doesn’t exist because it is here in Freedom Plaza,” said Linda Sarsour, a Women’s March co-chair.

The controversy stemmed from an incident last winter when the African American co-president of the march, Tamika Mallory, attended a Nation of Islam event at which black nationalist Louis Farrakhan made incendiary remarks about Jews. Mallory condemned the remarks but refused to distance herself from Farrakhan.

Since then, the march’s national leadership has tried to quell the outrage — reaching out to the Jewish community, denouncing anti-Semitism, meeting with rabbis and unveiling a new steering committee that includes three Jewish women.

The controversy prompted several high-profile supporters and progressive organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, to pull their support for the rally. Many women who previously went out of their way to attend opted to stay home and support independent groups.

Sydney Gart, 18, a freshman at American University who is Jewish, said she was torn by the recent allegations of anti-Semitism but didn’t want the controversies to keep her from supporting all women. Marching alongside fellow Jewish women seemed like the best option, she said.

“As Jewish women, we can’t stand idly by,” Gart said. “This was a great way of showing that we’re strong and we’re resilient. . . . We’re going to march with our Torah, it’s so amazing.”

In a symbolic gesture, Women’s March leaders Mallory and Carmen Perez helped carry a “Jewish Women of Color” banner at the front of the march as Jewish women sang, “We Will Build This World With Love.”

A small group of counterprotesters, surrounded by D.C. police, marched toward Trump International Hotel carrying signs that read “America you need to bless God,” “Abortion is murder” and “Islam is a religion of blood and murder.”

The march came a day after Women’s March leaders unveiled a 10-prong political platform that the group says will outline “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.

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

Sister marches took place across the country and the world. At a rally in Manhattan’s Foley Square, Leah Maguire, 35, and a friend displayed a “pussy grabs back” sign. It was their first Women’s March event.

“I couldn’t come last year because I was nine months pregnant, so it’s my first time — but I came for my children’s futures,” said Maguire, of Brooklyn. “My daughter and my son both. My son helped me paint this sign. Thank goodness he can’t read what it says yet.”

In Los Angeles, Ajana Orozco carried a hand-painted sign decorated with flowers that read, on one side, “Not all women have vaginas,” and on the other, “Proud trans woman.”

She read about the controversy surrounding the march but chose not to focus on it. She said she would rather focus on women’s solidarity in general.

“I came here because it’s the Women’s March, and I identify as a woman,” she said. “Not everybody thinks I am, but that’s how I identify, so it’s important for me to join this march and fight for my rights.”

Cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington also were home to competing marches with groups wanting to deliver a rebuke to the national organization.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) kicked off one alternative rally in Manhattan.

“We got the House, now what are we going to do with it?” she asked. “Now we are going to get all the houses, including the white one in 2020.”

In the District, the March for All Women in Pershing Park was one of two alternatives to the Women’s March, drawing dozens of participants across from the Women’s March event.

Another march, which organizers called the Inclusive Women 4 Equality for All Rally, drew about 30.

Gabrielle Paluch reported from New York, Mia Nakaji Monnier reported from Los Angeles, and Mark Guarino reported from Chicago.

Read more:

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

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

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

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