On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Women's March draws crowds in Washington, St. Paul

Share story

Demonstrators march during the Women's March in Washington.
Demonstrators march on Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
Jose Luis Magana | AP

Amid internal controversies and a capital city deeply distracted by the partial government shutdown, the third Women's March returned to Washington on Saturday with an enduring message of anger and defiance aimed directly at President Trump's White House.

It was one of many Women's March events held across the country — including in St. Paul, where several thousand people braved the cold to march to the steps of the Minnesota Capitol for a noon rally.

"People are bundled up — hats, mittens. We've walked blocks and blocks. There's people, volunteers, all bundled up — moving us along, cheering us along, honks, all of it," said marcher Lexie Erickson along the route of the St. Paul march. "We've got to show up to make things happen. ... It doesn't matter the time, the date, how cold it is — things are going to happen, (and) we need to be there to make it happen."

St. Paul police estimated the crowd at 4,000 during the march; that estimate was from before the marchers reached the Capitol.

The Women's March Minnesota crowd approaches the State Capitol.
The Women's March Minnesota crowd approaches the State Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
Nina Moini | MPR

In Washington, the original march in 2017, the day after Trump's inauguration, flooded the city with hundreds of thousands of people. The exact size of the turnout remains subject to a politically charged debate, but it's generally regarded as the largest Washington protest since the Vietnam era.

This year was a more modest affair for multiple reasons. An estimated 100,000 protesters packed several blocks around Freedom Plaza, just east of the White House, for a daylong rally. The march itself took about an hour and only moved about four blocks west along Pennsylvania Avenue past the Trump International Hotel before looping back to Freedom Plaza.

Organizers submitted a permit application estimating up to 500,000 participants even though it was widely expected that the turnout would be smaller. The original plan was to gather on the National Mall. But with the forecast calling for snow and freezing rain and the National Park Service no longer plowing snow because of the shutdown, organizers on Thursday changed the march's location and route.

As it turned out, the weather in Washington was chilly but otherwise pleasant, and the mood among the marchers a now-familiar mix of sister-power camaraderie and defiant anger toward Trump and the larger power structure. As always the Trump administration was the direct target of most of the abuse — with fresh bitterness stemming from more recent events like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's successful confirmation last fall despite a direct accusation of sexual misconduct when he was in high school.

One sign declared, "Strong women only fear weak men." Another stated, "MOOD: Still pretty mad about Kavanaugh."

Preparations for this year's march were roiled by an intense ideological debate among the movement's senior leadership. In November, Teresa Shook, one of the movement's founders, accused the four main leaders of the national march organization of anti-Semitism.

The accusation was leveled at two primary leaders: Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American who has criticized Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory, who has maintained an association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Shook, a retired lawyer from Hawaii, has been credited with sparking the movement by creating a Facebook event that went viral and snowballed into the massive protest on Jan. 21, 2017. In a recent Facebook post, she claimed Sarsour and Mallory, along with fellow organizers Bob Bland and Carmen Perez, had "steered the Movement away from its true course" and called for all four to step down.

The four march organizers have denied the charge, but Sarsour has publicly expressed regret that they were not "faster and clearer in helping people understand our values."

Despite pleas for unity, an alternate women's march organization sprung up in protest and a parallel rally took place in New York on Saturday a few miles away from the official New York Women's March protest.