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In 2017, Women Marched In Solidarity; 2019 Finds A Fractured Movement


Down now to downtown Washington, D.C., where thousands of women have gathered for the third annual Women's March. It's a protest movement that began in 2017 - still symbolizes many of the same ideas - women's rights, including reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and more. But those messages may have been somewhat diluted by controversy about the leadership. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is at the march, where speakers have taken the stage. Danielle, thanks for being with us.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Of course. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What's going on all around you? Can you tell us?

KURTZLEBEN: Right. So I don't know if you can hear behind me here, but, yeah, the speakers have taken the stage. Right now is the rally portion of the day. There's already been sort of a gathering this - in the middle of the morning. And after that was the march. The march went past Trump International Hotel because the march this year is not on the mall. It is in Freedom Plaza, which is situated just between the Trump Hotel and the White House. So it's kind of a fitting setting for this. And I will add - you said thousands of people. I wish I could tell you how many are here. But it is pretty packed. I mean, it's enough that cell service is hard to get. It's enough that a lot of people can't see the stage, can't get close enough. But then again, for a lot of marchers, this is about unity. It's about hanging out together. It's about energy. It's not necessarily about even being able to hear everything.

SIMON: Well, let me ask about the controversy because there have been...


SIMON: ...There have been accusations that certain members of the leadership are part of anti-Semitic movements, including support for a Nation of Islam minister, Louis Farrakhan. What can you tell us about that?

KURTZLEBEN: Exactly, yeah. So this really hit - became a high-profile issue lately with one of those four women in charge of the Women's March. Her name is Tamika Mallory. She's sort of borne the brunt of the criticism because she has praised Louis Farrakhan in the past. And Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, of course, have used anti-Semitic rhetoric. It's considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And so that has upset some Women's March supporters and has kept some people home from the march. Now, it really does seem to be looming over the proceedings here and - including getting into some of the speeches. We have a clip here from Reverend Jacqueline Lewis. She's a minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. She didn't directly reference the controversy in her speech. But she seemed to be getting at it. Here she is.

JACQUELINE LEWIS: Our common enemy is white supremacy.


LEWIS: Our common enemy is transphobia.


LEWIS: Our common enemy is sexism.


LEWIS: And our common enemy is greed.


LEWIS: Movements are messy. But we're going to have to move together.

KURTZLEBEN: And that's really - I've talked to a lot of people here. And that's sort of the sentiment among the people who have heard of this controversy. They really seem to echo Lewis - that this is a diverse group of women and that they really want to stick together and have unity.

SIMON: We should note, unlike past years, I don't see a lot of big-name political people - not the head of the Democratic Party, not any of the Democrats who are running for president, senators.

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. At least here at the D.C. march, the political presence is light. The only politician that I saw on the speakers list was representative Lucy McBath. She's from Georgia. And yeah, the DNC disappeared from the list of supporters on the Women's March's website recently. That said, some politicians are in other cities. Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, is in Des Moines today. And Iowa is a great state to be if you're running for president.

SIMON: Yes. I believe they have a caucus or something there, right, Danielle?

KURTZLEBEN: I've heard of that. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: I'll get back to you.

SIMON: All right. Thanks very much. Danielle Kurtzleben with the Women's March. Thanks very much.

KURTZLEBEN: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.