“Sometimes it feels like not enough has changed.” said Claudia Augustine, a lawyer in Seattle who attended Saturday's Womxn's March, one of three marches in the city this weekend.
After drawing crowds that broke records two years ago, the Seattle Womxn’s March had a noticeably smaller number of participants on Saturday amid growing tension over divisions within the movement launched in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2017.
As they did last year, people gathered at Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill before beginning the 2 1/2-mile march to Seattle Center. Police estimated the crowd at 10,000 people, including those who joined the march en route.
Last year, police estimated the number as in the tens of thousands. In the inaugural 2017 women’s march, more than 100,000 protesters marched, the largest demonstration in Seattle history.
Barb Nielsen, 70, said she has marched in all three Seattle women’s marches because of her “constant frustration over what is and is not happening in D.C.”
“My motivation is our president,” said Nielsen, echoing the frustration that initially spurred women to organize the event. “The march makes me feel like I’m doing something.”
Saturday’s Womxn’s March is one of three taking place in Seattle this weekend, the result of ongoing concern and questions, locally and at the national level, over the event’s inclusiveness. The organization behind the national women’s march movement has splintered following controversy over the association of some organizers with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for his anti-Semitic remarks and views.
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That prompted a local group called Be the Change Network to hold its own event, called Women’s March 3.0 on Sunday, so as not to conflict with observance of the Jewish sabbath on Saturday. That event starts at 10 a.m. at Westlake Park.
A third group, Seattle Women’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women March, is holding a simultaneous event Sunday morning, at Occidental Square.
That event is meant to highlight a lack of accountability and data surrounding the disappearance of Native American women and girls. Last year, the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute identified at least 506 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls in cities across the country since 1943. Seattle had the most cases.
Monday is also the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Organizers of Saturday’s Womxn’s March are partnering with Seattle’s MLK Jr. Organizing Coalition on events Monday. They also were planning for numerous panels across the city Sunday.
At marches around the country Saturday, crowds were strong, but down from previous years. It’s not clear how much the controversy involving the national leadership influenced turnout.
Jess Morgan, a 29-year old freelance writer, told The Seattle Times that she decided not to attend Saturday’s march because as a Jewish woman, she was uncomfortable with the national march leadership.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, who participated Saturday, said she had reached out to people associated with the various weekend events. She said she believed there was “actually a lot of goodwill and that people will come together.”
“I don’t think we should look at these events as necessarily separate. I believe the more marches the better,” Durkan said. “Obviously, we want there to be inclusivity, equality and people centered on coming together. But I really understand the reasons why in Seattle people felt that they wanted to have separate marches and also at the national level.”
She added that she had reached out to the Jewish community surrounding the weekend’s events and called on people to remember the deadly shooting last October at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 people. In the fall, a swastika was spray painted on the side of a synagogue in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.
“We’ve got to make very clear that we stand against anti-Semitism. We saw what happened at the Tree of Life synagogue,” Durkan said, recalling how Seattle came together to honor the shooting’s victims. “I think it’s really important for us to show that we still stand together.”
Bellevue High School senior Deborah Kwon, 17, came alone to Saturday’s march. Kwon said she was concerned, because of what she’d heard about connections between national organizers and anti-Semitic sentiments.
But after researching the Seattle march and seeing organizers’ statement denouncing those beliefs, she decided to participate after all.
“I support all women in the fight for gender equality, whether they are Jewish, black, Asian, indigenous, disabled or poor,” said Kwon, who said she started a student magazine two years ago as a platform for her classmates to write about social issues and political topics.
Speakers at a rally before the march Saturday repeatedly emphasized the event’s inclusiveness.
But there was a sense of a movement in search of a focus. The initial march was driven by Trump’s election, and last year many demonstrators mobilized around the #MeToo movement, which brought to light the undercurrent of sexual harassment and assault that pervades women’s daily lives. Rally speakers on Saturday brought up everything from poverty to Trump’s plan for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Seattle attorney Claudia Augustine, 44, marched Saturday with her daughter Nina, 14, their third year participating in the event. She was gratified to see so many women recently elected to higher office, following the launch of the women’s march two years ago. Her participation prompted her to become more politically active. Since 2017, she calls and emails senators and members of Congress every morning.
But she also fears people are growing apathetic and weary.
“Sometimes it feels like not enough has changed.” Augustine said.
As far as accusations of anti-Semitism, she said she’s focused more on what’s happening in Seattle.
“Divisiveness is not what we need,” Augustine said. “Inclusivity is the goal.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the first name of Claudia Augustine’s daughter, Nina.