Women’s March organizers hope to re-energize protests, draw thousands despite ‘marcher fatigue’

WASHINGTON — Beset by internal wrangling, divergent strategies and perhaps a bit of protest fatigue, Women’s March protesters were expected to turn out by the thousands Saturday, hoping that grit and determination might make up for the absence of the millions who hit the streets in 2017.

Like the first protest only days after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the national Women’s March will take place in Washington, D.C., with sister marches planned in Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Oakland, among other cities.

A slate of marches and events were also scheduled across five continents in cities like Oslo, Norway; Chiang Mai, Thailand; and Lagos, Nigeria.

D.C. organizers didn’t expect more than 10,000 attendees for this year’s “Women Rising” march — about a tenth of the 100,000 or so who showed up last year, despite snow and wind, and a fraction of the 500,000 who jammed the street in 2017. 

“We want decency brought to the White House, and we are a nation to be respected and not be about hatred,” said Therese Moran-Conlon, of Eldersburg, Maryland, who turned out Saturday for another cold, snowy day in Washington to protest with her husband, Mike. “It’s historic.”

‘Women rising’ but numbers are falling:2020 March tries to re-energize amid flagging enthusiasm

It was the first appearance at the D.C. March for the 56-year-old psychotherapist who attended for a “small but very powerful” march in Annapolis, Maryland, last year. She called the protest march “a fight against good and evil.”

“I know they keep saying there aren’t gonna be many people but with recent events, it’ll compel people to go,” she said.

Organizers are hoping that, given the election year — and Trump’s recent spate of political controversy, including the strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — turnout will match past year’s.

“One, we are in an election year,” said Carmen Perez, an original co-chair of the Women’s March. “Two, we are in potential war conversations, with the fact the U.S. has struck another country. I personally feel we’re going to see an increase in numbers because people are wanting to come together again.”

To many of the marchers, Trump was the central focus.

In Sarasota, Florida, Mimi Fiedler, who has marched in Sarasota every year, turned out on a windy, sunny day bearing a blunt sign: “Impeach Putin’s Puppet.” Her fellow marcher, Linda Postlewaite, carried a similar message: “Wake up RI’s. Trump is a crook.”

In Washington, Carla Dinsmore, 67, who has attended the first march in 2017 with her husband, refused to utter the president’s name as she explained what drives her activism.

“Last time, the person who’s president right now — I don’t say his name — he just started,” she said. “We were worried this wasn’t gonna be a good situation. Three years later, we see we were right. Things continue to get worse and worse and worse. We want to see him out as soon as possible.”

The D.C. march is focusing on a smaller slate of issues, shifting away from its original 10-point program into three central themes: reproductive rights, immigration and climate change. Similarly, Chicago’s Women’s March will feature a “gallery of issues,” highlighting voting, the census, climate justice, gun violence prevention and women’s health.

“It’s just trying to create a very festive atmosphere, but one that encourages our marchers to educate themselves on the issues and activate around them,” said Chicago march organizer Harlene Ellin. “We want people not just to march, but to go out and do something.”

To many women, the theme of the day was about persistence. 

In Sarasota, Florida, Susie Sherwood fought the wind coming off the Gulf Coast as she a sign reading “Let’s leave this world a better place for children.” 

“We’ve been doing this since 2016,” she said, “and are not giving up.”

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted that many women have been elected to office “up and down the country,” but she quickly added: “We’re not resting.”

She also urged marchers not to let their passions about individual issues divided them: “it is crucial that we stay united.”

On their Facebook page, DC organizers said this year’s protest, called Women Rising, arrived with “renewed energy to take on Trumpism and a plan to build with a growing community of activists.” They said the marchers “will enter 2020 ready to finish what we started.”

Organizers nationwide also appear to be eschewing celebrity appearances and stages in favor of marching, grassroots organizing and community-focused activism. 

Turnout in New York City will likely be similar. Last year, attendees split by two marches due to infighting with Women’s March Inc. — the organizers of the first march — totaled just over 11,000, according to Newsday.

Meanwhile, Chicago is “preparing for large crowds,” possibly in the tens of thousands. The Chicago march saw crowds estimated at 250,000 in 2017 and 300,000 in 2018 but took a hiatus in 2019, following a “March to the Polls” around the midterm elections. 

“I’ve read lots of pieces and stories on this ‘marcher fatigue,'” Ellin said. “That remains to be seen. I get the feeling that there’s energy for this.”

Contributing: Anna Bryson for the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida.

Joshua Bote reported from Washington, D.C.; Grace Hauck in Chicago. 

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