The Women’s March is back this year — with a new board and new strategy to get women activated to oust Donald Trump in November. The organization’s flagship march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, which culminates a week of actions, is expected to draw more than 10,000 participants. Sister marches around the country will see thousands more participate.
The Women’s March organized the largest single-day protest in the U.S. the day after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, and has, predictably, seen shrinking numbers since then. Still, organizers say there has been an uptick in signups for this Saturday’s marches since Trump’s assassination of Iranian military leader Gen. Qassim Suleimani. Under the banner of “Women Rising,” marchers in D.C. will start at Freedom Plaza, work their way around the White House and return to the Plaza.
In September, Women’s March co-founders Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland and Linda Sarsour stepped down. The organization has since reshuffled, and now touts an all-volunteer, 16-member board that includes trans, Muslim, Black and Native American women, and a disability rights activist and rabbi.
The Women’s March has also surveyed its participants, asking them what the organization should prioritize. Instead of the 10-point platform agenda of last year’s marches, the organization is now unifying around three themes: reproductive rights, climate change and immigration.
“The focus is really on the marchers. We want to bring Women’s March home to where we think it needs to be, which is on the ground,” says Women’s March Chief Strategy Officer Caitlin Breedlove. “The constituency, the marchers, the people that care about Women’s March are not actually interested in a few individual celebrity activists.”
Board member Rinku Sen, formerly the executive director of Race Forward, is optimistic about the organization’s new orientation, and says that every social movement is initially shaped by internal conflicts and missteps, of which the Women’s March has had its share in the last couple of years, including accusations of anti-Semitism. “Our job here as the new board is to write the next chapter of the Women’s March and make that chapter inclusive and useful to women themselves.”
Despite the marches’ declining numbers, 70 percent of the organization’s base are “brand new activists,” according to Breedlove. Moreover, the marches’ organization is more collaborative and decentralized this year, with partner organizations and “co-creators” taking a more active role in the process. The organization also dropped an attempt to trademark the name “Women’s March” and is instead supporting unaffiliated sister marches who choose to use the term.
For organizers in 2020, it’s less about building a big march and more about meeting newer and longtime activists where they’re at and steering them toward movements on the ground, particularly electoral work, in advance of the general election.
“We want to create opportunities in 2020 beyond just this march for our marchers to plug into whatever neighborhood, local, state work we are trying to do in 2020, because we know that it’s really women and trans and gender non-confirming people against Trumpism,” says Breedlove.
In fact, the 2017 and 2018 marches and the organization that grew from them played a significant role in catalyzing the 2018 midterm blue wave that landed 102 women seats in the House of Representatives, a record number for women’s political representation. This year, six women have run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and studies show the election could ultimately come down to women voters. Moreover, multiple other women’s political groups formed in the aftermath of the initial march, propelling increased progressive electoral activism across the U.S.
But it’s not just about fostering electoral work. Organizers also hope to train people to engage in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. “Direct action is part of our DNA, and that continues to be true in the new board who, like myself, don’t come out of electoral politics, who are from membership-based direct-action organizations that run campaigns that use a big variety of tactics,” says Sen.
In advance of Saturday’s march, Women’s March organized a number of events and actions this week meant to provide direction and strategy around the organization’s core issues. Partner organizations that had pulled out of the march in 2018, including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and NARAL, are now supporting many of these pre-march events around the country, which include canvases and voter registration trainings.
“After the march our plans are to keep generating a culture of feminist activity,” says Sen. “We could call this the Fourth Wave of the feminist movement in this country.” She praised the Virginia State Legislature’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment this week as another sure sign of a lasting Fourth Wave culture.
“There may never be a march as big as the first Women’s March, but it is critical that we are staying in the game, and we are here to both replenish the ranks but also feed the spirit of longtime activists who are still in it,” Breedlove says. “We’re really interested in marathon feminism, not sprint feminism.”