After a year of controversy and internal power struggles, the Women’s March returned to Washington D.C. for the third time alongside hundreds of sister marches nationwide, with thousands braving the cold and wet weather in the name of gender equality.
Marches were planned across the country from Boston to Los Angeles as well as overseas in cities including Berlin, Rome and Kabul. The event Saturday also comes amid the partial government shutdown, sparked by President Trump’s funding demands for a wall on the southern border.
The march in D.C. took protesters down Pennsylvania Avenue and past the Trump International Hotel, where several participants hoisted signs higher in the air, flashing their messages toward the building’s entrance.
Stephanie Wesolek stood next to her 8-year-old son Blaine during the event, who carried a poster with the words “Boys will be… good humans” written on it.
The 28-year-old told the Washington Post that her son “needs to see all these people and realize how important this is.”
“Little boys need to realize they can’t grow up to be jerks like them,” she said.
Meanwhile demonstrators at one of two New York rallies marched through the streets, chanting: “This is what democracy looks like.” And hundreds of people braved temperatures in the single-digits to attend the third annual Women’s March to the Minnesota State Capitol.
The first-ever Women’s March in 2017, held the day after Trump’s inauguration, drew 3.3 million to 5.2 million people to rallies across the country. While the actual number of participants is unclear, it is generally regarded as one of the largest Washington protests since Vietnam. But attendees early Saturday appeared far fewer in number, likely due in part to allegations of anti-Semitism and criticism over the group’s connections to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Organizers this year submitted a permit application estimating up to 500,000 people will be in attendance, though the actual turnout is expected to be much lower. A permit approved by the National Park Service indicates that 10,000 are expected to show up.
The accusations were specifically aimed at two primary leaders: Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American with a long history of criticizing Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory, who once referred to Farrakhan as “the GOAT” or “the greatest of all time” on social media.
She also attended the Nation of Islam's Saviours' Day event last February, along with Sarsour and Carmen Perez, where Farrakhan said Jewish people are "responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men."
Teresa Shook, often credited with founding the movement through her viral Facebook event, in November publicly accused both Mallory and Sarsour as well as fellow organizers Bob Bland and Perez of steering “the movement away from its true course.”
Leaders of the Women’s March Inc. have faced calls to step down in wake of the controversy, which has also prompted both local organizers as well as high-profile figures and organizations to distance themselves from the once widely celebrated event.
Jessica Childs, who attended the D.C. march told CNN she was not once bothered the scandals and allegations plaguing the march and its leadership team.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
“Never,” the Virginia resident said. “This is something where I was going to be here no matter what. This is my life, we’re talking about. This is all of our lives and we’re going to be here fighting for that, regardless of whatever is happening at a higher level. This is for us.”
The four march organizers have denied the allegations and resisted demands for their resignations, but Sarsour has publicly acknowledged that they should have been “faster and clearer in helping people understand our values.”
Members of the leadership team even took the stage in Washington and addressed the allegations.
“"To my Muslim sisters, I see you," Mallory said. "To my Latina sisters, I see you. To my Asian sisters, I see you. To my disabled sisters, I see you. And to my Jewish sisters: Do not let anyone tell you who I am. I see all of you."
And despite such pleas for unity, an alternate women’s march has sprung up in protest and will be holding a parallel rally in New York on Saturday a few blocks away from the official New York Women’s March protest.