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Thousands Gather Across U.S. For 3rd Annual Women's Marches

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Earlier today, thousands of progressive women and their allies rallied in Washington, D.C., in New York and elsewhere for the third annual Women's March. The group, which organized the first march in 2017 in response to President Trump's election, has been plagued by internal divisions and accusations of anti-Semitism against some of its leaders. But the march went on today despite the controversy and the damp, cold weather. NPR's Sarah McCammon was at the march in that damp, cold weather here in Washington. She joins me here in the studio.

Sarah, welcome.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: Go through a bit about what these allegations were all about and how the leaders of the Women's March have been addressing them.

MCCAMMON: Well, several of the leaders have faced accusations of anti-Semitism in part because of ties to the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who's made multiple anti-Semitic remarks in the past. And those ties prompted several groups, including the Democratic National Committee this year, to pull out from being listed as a partner for the Women's March. One of those leaders, Tamika Mallory, addressed this during the rally today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TAMIKA MALLORY: And to my Jewish sisters, do not let anyone tell you who I am. I see all of you.

MCCAMMON: This, Melissa, isn't the first time that these issues of race and identity have come up at the Women's March. The first year it was organized, right after the 2016 election, there were a lot of concerns, really from the right and the left, about whether the march was inclusive enough both of conservative women and of women of color.

BLOCK: And when you talked to the marchers about all this, what did they say?

MCCAMMON: Well, obviously those who came today were not disturbed enough by these allegations of anti-Semitism to stay home. Several told me they'd heard about the controversy, but it wasn't their focus. For example, Christine Betters (ph) came to the march with her daughter from Takoma Park, Md.

CHRISTINE BETTERS: And I know there's some controversy around this march, but for us, it's not about the leaders. We don't know their leaders' names. We don't know anything about them. And we, frankly, don't care. We're here to be - as we say in our house, we're here to be one with the sisterhood. So here we are. And we're excited.

MCCAMMON: And I did speak with one woman who described herself as a Jewish feminist. She said she had second thoughts about coming to the women's march in light of the controversy but felt it was important to stand in solidarity with other women for racial and economic equality.

BLOCK: Sarah, if we think back to the first Women's March right after President Trump's election, are the issues that we're hearing about in this march the same as they were back then?

MCCAMMON: You know, this has been a challenge for the women's march to sort of define itself and shape its identity. And there have been disagreements about what that should be. They've always tried to address a lot of issues - immigration, poverty, racial inequality among others - along with more traditional feminist concerns like reproductive rights. And that last one was on a lot of people's minds this year with the newly configured Supreme Court, which now includes two Trump nominees, including most recently, of course, Justice Brett Kavanaugh. I talked to Ellie Hackney (ph) of Pasadena, Md. She says she's very concerned about the future of women's rights.

ELLIE HACKNEY: It's actually a very scary time for women and for reproductive rights. We just support candidates who are pro-choice. We also really support Planned Parenthood. But, again, it's a very, very scary time.

HACKNEY: And, Sarah, this march is coming on the same day of - that President Trump addressed the nation about the government shutdown and plans for border security. Were you hearing from people at the march that that was on their minds?

MCCAMMON: Right. This was just before he was expected to speak. And, of course, the Women's March is a very anti-Trump crowd so, not surprisingly, a lot of people I talked to today in D.C. were angry. They blamed the president for keeping the government from reopening. A few told me they hoped to see some compromise and some progress but, at least as of a few hours ago, weren't feeling too hopeful about that. And a couple of people, Melissa, here in D.C. said they were federal workers, and they were very frustrated to be without pay. But they didn't want to go on the record because they're worried about their jobs.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Sarah McCammon - thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIEL DE MONTAGNE'S "SLOW POUR MON CHIEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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