Women's March Draws A Smaller, But Passionate Crowd

Jan 18, 2020
Originally published on January 19, 2020 7:02 am

The fourth annual Women's March descended on the streets of Washington on Saturday. But unlike the first demonstration that brought hundreds of thousands to the capital the day after President Trump's inauguration, the march drew just a fraction of the original turnout as the movement has struggled with changes in leadership and questions about inclusivity.

The demonstration in Washington was the main march, but sister marches were also held in more than 200 cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Brussels.

As snowflakes began to fall in Washington, protesters gathered at Freedom Plaza to hear several members of the Women's March board speak before taking off on the designated route around the White House. This year, the march focused on three main issues: climate change, reproductive rights and immigration.

Nadrat Amos, 18, participated for the first time along with several classmates from Howard University. She said she'd stayed away from previous marches because she felt like the organization primarily championed white, middle-class women. But going into this year's election, she said, it became increasingly important to her to show up on behalf of all people of color and black women, specifically.

"The Women's March has had a history of marginalizing certain people. They want their version of smashing patriarchy to look a certain way," she said. "I'm black, I'm proud. This is my march as much as it is any other person's march."

Amos' criticisms come at a time of transition for the organization. After claims of anti-Semitism pushed three founding members of the Women's March to step down from their roles last year, a bigger and more diverse board took their place.

This year's anti-Trump demonstration drew a significantly smaller crowd than in 2017 when crowds overwhelmed parts of downtown Washington and high-profile activists like Madonna and Gloria Steinem addressed the marchers.

The permit filed with the National Park Service for this year's march, by comparison, allowed up for up to 10,000 people.

Protesters like Becky Halbe, who used to work at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said she didn't feel phased by the lower turnout.

"The energy is still there. We can't give up — this is important to show that we do care," she said.

Unlike in previous years, Saturday's march in Washington did not feature a stage for performances and speeches from celebrities. Instead, in an effort to reconnect with supporters, organizers marched alongside everybody else.

Upon reaching the White House, Chilean collective LasTesis led the crowd through a rendition of their viral protest anthem "Un Violador En Tu Camino" ("A Rapist in Your Path").

A different group of protesters also stopped in front of the White House to chant the words of Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution in reference to President Trump's impeachment. Quoting the Constitution, they chanted: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

For Connor Czora, who carried a sign with the colors of the transgender flag in Washington, Saturday's march represented an important moment in the fight against the people they described as most targeted by the Trump administration.

"I'm here in support of women protesting against Trump's actions, against his divisive rhetoric, against his attacks on women and trans people," Czora said. "Trans women are especially under attack."

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The fourth annual Women's March returned to more than 200 cities around the world yesterday. NPR's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento reports on what drew crowds this time to Washington, D.C., for the anti-Trump demonstration.

ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: Protesters filed into Freedom Plaza, blocks from the White House, more than an hour before the Women's March was set to begin. As light snow began to fall, people chanted on their way to the planned revel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: This year's march followed a period of controversy for the feminist organization. Three out of four founding members stepped down in 2019, following allegations of anti-Semitism. But with a new board and a new focus in place, the demonstrations seemed to draw renewed support this time around.

Eighteen-year-old Nadrat Amos said she felt turned off by the march in the past for its lack of inclusivity. But in 2020, she said she's had a change of heart.

NADRAT AMOS: I also believe that it's important for certain people - especially black people, black women - to be very visible and fight for visibility in these spaces. This is my march as much as it is any other person's march.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: The protest route circled around the White House as people carried signs for climate change, immigration and LGBTQ rights. Some people also referenced the recent passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) ERA in the U.S.A. ERA in the U.S.A.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Still, fewer people turned out for this year's march on Washington than in the past. The permit filed with the National Park Service allowed for a maximum of 10,000 protesters. But even so, Becky Halbe said the energy still felt as high as in other marches that she's gone to.

BECKY HALBE: We can't give up.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Halbe used to work at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She said climate change is one of her biggest concerns.

HALBE: There are other things we can do, but this is important to show that we do care.

GOMEZ SARMIENTO: After arriving at the White House, protesters chanted the articles of impeachment before the crowd began to disperse.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.