By The Washington Post · Marissa J. Lang
It begins with marching and, they hope, ends with President Donald Trump being voted out of office.
"Trump and his administration are bent on silencing us. If it were up to him, there would be no Women's March," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, chief operating officer of the national Women's March organization. "This year's march is more crucial than ever. . . . We won't allow anyone to divide us or keep us from being the women who make Trump a one-term president."
The protest, one of hundreds planned Saturday nationwide, is expected to be the smallest Women's March since the organization burst into the national consciousness in 2017 and inspired millions to take to the streets in Washington and across the globe.
National Park Service estimates indicate the group is expecting between 3,000 and 10,000 attendees in Washington. O'Leary Carmona said the group received 26,000 virtual RSVPs through its website.
More than 70 buses from states like Alabama, Nebraska and Pennsylvania were expected to bring activists to the rally, officials said.
But as of Friday afternoon, fewer than 6,000 people had indicated on Facebook they planned to attend. Weather - a cold and nasty mix of rain and sleet - also could depress turnout.
Washington's chapter of Black Lives Matter, which is planning events around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, asked its supporters to boycott Saturday's march due to an ongoing conflict with the Women's March organization. Experts who study protest movements said burnout, fatigue and disillusionment threaten to keep many at home.
The event is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in Freedom Plaza with a short rally at 11 a.m., featuring a video of the organization's newly minted board members reading the articles of impeachment against Trump that will take center stage in a Senate trial next week.
Protesters will march around the Ellipse and up 17th Street NW toward the White House, where they will sing, chant and dance to the song, "Un violador en tu camino," a protest anthem penned by Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis.
But Trump won't hear them. The president departed Friday for his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he will spend the weekend.
Saturday's march is the culmination of a week of activities meant to foster a stronger grass-roots movement and support local organizers around the country working on three main issues the Women's March will focus on this year: climate change, immigration and reproductive rights.
By moving the event's focus to issues, rather than putting on a show featuring celebrities and politicians, officials hope to rebuild relationships with disaffected activists and groups that in recent years have cut ties with the organization.
Jewish women - weary of an organization that for nearly two years refused to remove former board members accused of aligning themselves with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam and longtime leader Louis Farrakhan - have shown little interest in returning to the fold, religious leaders have said.
Issues of financial mismanagement and a reputation for being unwilling to aid local groups also have followed the group for years.
O'Leary Carmona pointed to the group's effort to engage Washington-based artists and organizations this year as proof of change. The organization gave grants to three groups, including Reclaim Rent Control, an organization that aims to broaden renter protections in the District.
But Black Lives Matter D.C. condemned the group this week. Organizers said it failed to make good on promises of inclusion and were critical of march organizers for scheduling the event on the holiday weekend.
"D.C. is more than Congress and the White House. It is more than the DOJ and the National Mall," Black Lives Matter D.C. wrote in a statement. "For large mobilizations that come into the District, this means holding the reality as D.C. as both the nation's capital, the center of empire, a necessary place for national protests, and home to real life human beings with important local issues."
O'Leary Carmona said Friday that the Women's March has "tried to do better" but failed to meet Black Lives Matters's needs.
"We've been interested in having - and we still are interested in having - a working relationship with them," she said. "We fell short this year."
D.C. police will close streets around the White House, the Ellipse and Lafayette Square beginning about 9:30 a.m. Saturday until roughly 4 p.m., officials said.
Roads inside the perimeter of 14th to 18th streets and I Street and Constitution Avenue in Northwest Washington will be closed to vehicles. The closures down 17th Street NW and 15th Street NW will extend to Independence Avenue SW and Madison Drive NW, respectively.
Parking access will be suspended in that area and along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, from the White House to 12th Street, on 13th Street NW between Pennsylvania Avenue and E Street, and on E Street NW between 14th and 13th streets.
The march will begin its procession toward the White House about 11:30 a.m., according to the group's Park Service permit.
In cities around the country, women in pink hats will assemble under the Women's March banner for various kinds of activism.
In Los Angeles, organizers expect thousands of women to demonstrate around Pershing Square, where a large rally will feature boldfaced names and activists. The group, which coined the theme "Women Rising," has for years sought to separate itself from the national organization.
In New York, where two competing rallies have butted heads in years past, organizers have choreographed a symbolic coming together of the two protests, one of which will take place in Columbus Circle and the other in Foley Square. The rallies are being put on by the Women's March NYC chapter and an unaffiliated group called Women's March Alliance.