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Thousands join US women's march despite anti-Semitism controversy

Online searches for the word "feminism" shot up following Women's Marches around the United States in protest against Donald Trump's inauguration in January 2017
For several months, the movement has battled PR problems, with several officials accused of anti-Semitism

On Saturday, the third edition of the Women's March -- a nation-wide organization that grew from the original protest in Washington D.C. two years ago -- is expected to bring thousands of Americans into the streets, but the movement is riven by allegations of anti-Semitism.

The main event will once again be held in Washington accompanied by hundreds of "sister" marches across the US.

Activists have said the marches will aim to celebrate the successes for women this year, including the fact that more women were elected to US congress in the most recent elections than at any time in history.

However, there will also be a large emphasis on the 2020 elections and strengthening the movement's cause.

In some cities, accusations of anti-Semitism targeting some of the Women's March organizers has given rise to separate marches occurring simultaneously.

In Washington D.C. and New York, there are at least two demonstrations despite organizers' attempts to dispel the accusations in recent months.

Angela Weiss (AFP)

In contrast to the 2017 marches, which drew more than three million, and last year when hundreds of thousands rallied, Washington police said they expected perhaps 20,000 demonstrators this year, not far from the 16,000 people who indicated interest on the event's Facebook page.

In Washington, demonstrators arriving by car, bus or subway converged on the city's Freedom Plaza as they prepared to march defiantly past the nearby Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many wore pink "pussy" hats to protest Trump's demeaning comments about women.

"We need to stand up for women all over the world -- for races, gender, sexual orientation which are often misunderstood," said Ann Caroline, 27, herself wearing a pink hat.

Some marchers carried signs portraying Trump as a Russian "puppet." Other placards decried his comments about women or minority groups, while some demanded his impeachment.

Just blocks away, the president spoke to reporters outside the White House before traveling briefly to Dover, Delaware to console family members of four Americans killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group in Syria.

Trump was to return to Washington for a 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) announcement about border security and the partial government shutdown affecting the country.

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

In January 2017, hundreds of thousands turned out for the first Women's March, united by their disdain for President Donald Trump, who had taken office the day before.

Last year, more than 500,000 people -- boosted by the #MeToo and Time's Up movements against sexual violence and harassment -- made their voices heard. Many wore pink "pussy hats" as a symbol of strength.

This year, to mark "two years of resistance to the Trump presidency," organizers have called on demonstrators to "flood" the streets -- using the hashtag #WomensWave.

The march comes as a record number of women -- 131 -- are serving in the new Congress.

Protesters have been galvanized by the confirmation of conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, despite allegations that he committed sexual assault during his teen years.


Women activists are also motivated by the fight over the Trump administration's policy -- since suspended -- of separating undocumented parents from children at the border with Mexico.

And they are up in arms about statements by the Republican president -- accused by several women of sexual misconduct -- that they see as sexist or racist.

But for several months, the Women's March movement has battled public relations problems, with several officials accused of anti-Semitism.

At issue is co-founder Tamika Mallory's ties to controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and her failure to condemn disparaging remarks about Jews he made at an event she attended.

Mallory, who is black, has also taken to social media to criticize the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most prominent US groups tackling anti-Semitism.

- Parallel marches -

The backlash surged back into the headlines in December.

Tablet magazine, which focuses on Jewish life, said that Mallory and Hispanic activist Carmen Perez had told a Jewish march organizer, Vanessa Wruble, that Jews bore special responsibility for racism and the slave trade in America.

The remarks -- denied by Mallory and Perez -- were allegedly made in November 2016, Tablet reported.

This past November, Teresa Shook, the first woman to float the idea of a women's march, called for the movement's four co-presidents -- Mallory, Perez, Linda Sarsour and Bob Bland -- to resign over the scandals.


Sarsour denied the allegations, saying in a statement: "The Women's March exists to fight bigotry and discrimination in all their forms -- including homophobia and anti-Semitism."

And the organization had explicitly said that it did not "support or endorse" statements made by Farrakhan.

But the controversy has driven some women to align with Wruble, who left the Women's March and founded a parallel organization, March On.

In January 2018, the two groups marched side by side at events in New York and Los Angeles.

But on Saturday, they are marching separately, and March On says it will not participate in the Washington rally.


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