The Women’s March hobbled along Saturday at its fourth annual march, drawing feisty but smaller crowds and fewer big names after a tumultuous year that saw the top leadership step down amid anti-Semitism allegations.
The event, Women Rising, saw thousands of participants gather in Washington, D.C., and across the nation to rally for what Women’s March organizers identified as their three top issues — reproductive rights, immigration and climate change — and against President Trump.
“It’s no secret to anyone here that Trump and his administration are bent on silencing us,” Women’s March chief operating officer Rachel O’Leary Carmona said at a pre-rally press conference. “If it were up to him, there would be no Women’s March. He’s attacked women and femmes on every front imaginable, and that’s why this march is the most important one, which is the last one before the 2020 election.”
In many ways, however, the Women’s March has been its own worst enemy, beset by shrinking support amid criticism over alleged anti-Semitism that culminated in September with the resignations of three of four co-chairs: Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour.
The upheaval has taken its toll. The crowd that braved frigid temperatures Saturday at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., was estimated by media outlets at fewer than 10,000 participants — the National Park Service permit projected between 3,000 and 10,000 — a significant drop-off from previous years.
Last year’s gathering in Washington, D.C., which was also hit with bad weather, was estimated by the Crowd Counting Consortium at about 100,000, while the landmark inaugural 2017 march drew more than a half-million.
There were “sister” marches held in most major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, as well as several locations overseas. The #WomensMarch2020 trended on Twitter on Saturday, and elected officials like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernard Sanders tweeted their support.
Behind the scenes, however, some early sponsors and partners who quietly dropped their support as the anti-Semitism allegations raged have yet to come back, including the AFL-CIO, Center for American Progress, Emily’s List and National Resources Defense Council.
Sticking with the Women’s March were Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, as well as a host of other progressive groups, including 350.org, Mijente, Greenpeace and Indivisible.
There were no listed speakers for this year’s march in Washington, a stark contrast to the star-studded 2017 event, with Ms. Carmona explaining that “it’s not about listening to people talk, it’s about exercising your own power and your own agency.”
“We are not having speakers this year, and we are marching with the marchers because we feel like that’s where the energy is with the movement,” she said.
In New York City, there were once again two marches, one sponsored by the Women’s March Inc. and the other by the Women’s March Alliance, which previously had distanced itself from the group over anti-Semitism concerns.
This year, the formerly warring groups presented a united front after “working seamlessly and cooperatively to ensure success and sisterhood going forward,” said the Women’s March Alliance, which sponsored the 2017 and 2018 events, in a statement.
The four co-chairs were replaced by a 16-member board of directors. The only holdover is Carmen Perez, who remained with the organization as a board member despite criticism over her associations with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
She posed for a November 2016 photo holding hands with Mr. Farrakhan, and spoke at the Farrakhan-led Justice or Else rally in 2015. The previous Women’s March leadership issued statements condemning anti-Semitism without denouncing him personally.
The current Women’s March board includes at least one Jewish member, Tamara Cohen of Philadelphia, a rabbi and LGBTQ activist.