The Women’s March on Saturday will hold its first rally since former President TrumpDonald TrumpNigerian president to lift Twitter ban if certain conditions are met Grisham calls Kushner ‘Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit’ Federal court orders FEC to rule on NRA shell entity campaign allegation MORE left office, signaling a new era for the organization that was one of the largest movements to oppose Trump.
Saturday’s march will take place in a number of cities, with the headlining march happening in Washington, D.C., and 650 sister marches simultaneously taking place in 610 cities. According to a memo sent out by the group on Thursday, 240,348 people have pledged to participate in the nationwide event.
The event is meant to voice opposition to the near-total ban on abortion in Texas and raise awareness about “abortion justice” as the Supreme Court prepares to reconvene on Monday.
But the event also marks a new era for the march as organizers push for liberal ideals in a post-Trump world.
“The strategy after the march is really where the magic happens,” said former North Carolina Democratic state House candidate Aimy Steele, who has been involved in past Women’s Marches.
The group was seen as one of the largest grassroots resistance forces against the Trump administration, spearheading a number of demonstrations against the former president’s immigration policies and against Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughKavanaugh tests positive for COVID-19, has no symptoms Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Republicans keep distance from ‘Justice for J6’ rally MORE’s appointment to the court after sexual assault allegations.
This year’s march is taking place as abortion rights groups across the country are sounding the alarm over the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalizes abortion, amid backlash against the Texas law and ahead of December Supreme Court hearing on a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks.
“The work continues and is, in fact, more urgent for more people, including women and other people who can get pregnant, than it’s ever been,” said Women’s March executive director Rachel O’Leary Carmona. “There were a lot of people that asked us after Donald Trump left office and said ‘well what are you all going to do now?’ and many of those were also the same people who said ‘oh you’re hysterical, Roe will never get overturned.”
The rally is also the first Women’s March to take place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted women across the board.
It comes just over a year ahead of the 2022 midterm elections and stands to have a major influence on the candidates that will run up and down the ballot. The first women’s march which took place a day after Trump’s inauguration was seen as a catalyst for the record number of liberal and Democratic women who ran for office in subsequent elections.
“I was just mad as hell,” said Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial nominee and Del. Hala Ayala (D), referring to her involvement in the first march.
Ayala helped organize members of her community to attend the march and decided to run for the House of Delegates after attending the protest.
“I wasn’t done. I was still angry. I was still pissed,” she said.
Ayala went on to become one of nine women to win their elections to the House of Delegates that year. Either Ayala or her opponent, Republican Winsome Sears, will make history as the first woman of color to hold the position of lieutenant governor in Virginia history.
“All of these things that families are needing, even in times of pandemic and COVID, we should stand up,” Ayala said. “And that’s what we do as lawmakers.”
Steele also attended a Women’s March in 2017, calling it a “transformative experience.”
“The Women’s March encouraged something that was already brewing and made it more exciting,” said Steele, who already was planning on running for office.
The protest is seen as a space where women of color are able to take on key roles, differing from many past feminist movements in the U.S. Ayala and Steele represent just two of many women of color who took part in the march and later ran for office.
“With the Women’s March that I attended along with the ones that are being advertised now and over the years, there always is this notion that we want to fight for women’s rights, and especially women of color who haven’t always enjoyed the rights that we have obtained as a women’s rights movement,” Steele said.
However, Steele noted that it is essential for any feminist movement to include women of color in planning, programming, speeches, and what happens as a result of the march, saying that “is where actually inclusivity occurs.”
“It’s more than just including it in the title or the opening remarks,” she said.
But the organization has not always garnered positive responses for its inclusion efforts.
In 2019, three of the group’s founding members, Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland and Linda Sarsour, left the organization’s board after it faced criticism for their ties with Louis Farrakhan, who has been known to make antisemitic comments. His group, the Nation of Islam, has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Women’s March maintained it did not cut ties with Mallory, Bland, and Sarsour, but that their terms on the group’s board came to an end. Group leaders said they were working to learn from their mistakes and condemned antisemitism, in addition to naming 17 “Diverse Movement Leaders.”
Two years later, Carmona says the group is continuing to work hard to create a big tent.
“Part of that is being able to learn and continue to grow, and part of that is not just responding to the concerns of women, but also making sure that our march is somewhere that folks feel that it can be a political home and is an advocate for non-binary people and trans folks and feminists who might not be women,” Carmona said.
The group will have to continue to contend with conservative pushback, particularly from those in the anti-abortion movement as the debate over the procedure nears fever pitch.
The Susan B. Anthony List, a prominent anti-abortion group, issued a tweet on Friday saying the Women’s March as “a history of excluding women who speak out against the human rights abuse of abortion,” while March for Life president Jeanne Mancini called the Women’s March’s abortion justice focus this year a “macabre theme.”
But defenders of the Women’s March say it represents so much more than abortion rights.
“It’s really this message of perseverance,” said Josephine Kalipen, deputy director of Family Values at Work, an organization dedicated to racial, economic, and gender equality for care providers. “We’re not going to stop until we’re done. We’re not going to stop until we have economic equity across all women and across all of our needs.”