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Women's Marches Bring Thousands To Washington, D.C., And Cities Nationwide

Oct 17, 2020
Originally published on October 18, 2020 8:26 am

Updated at 6:08 p.m. ET

Thousands of people gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., and in hundreds of cities across the country for the fifth Women's March.

The latest iteration of the protest event — first held the day after President Trump's 2017 inauguration — comes 17 days before Election Day and as Republican senators move to quickly confirm the president's third Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Isabella De Luca, a Trump supporter from New York has a bloodied mouth after a scuffle at the Women's March in Washington D.C.
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Women dressed as handmaidens to protest Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.⁠⠀
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The controversial election-year nomination was a central focus during this year's events, motivating rallies and marches throughout the day. If confirmed, Barrett would succeed the feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of gender equality during her nearly three decades on the court.

Saturday's tent-pole event in Washington was permitted for 10,000 attendees. Organizers said that in total, more than 400 events were planned throughout the country.

Protesters in Washington, D.C., are rallying against President Trump and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
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Among the issues are the contentious U.S. presidential election and the nomination to U.S. Supreme Court of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Carol Guzy for NPR
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With Election Day just over two weeks away, mobilizing women to vote was a central theme, alongside other women's rights issues.

In D.C., Sonja Spoo, a reproductive rights activist, said, "Donald Trump is leaving office and there is no choice for him — it is our choice — and we are voting him out come Nov. 3."

Protestors wore a variety of masks in Washington, D.C.
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One of the largest events planned for Saturday happened in the nation's capital, where nearly four years ago hundreds of thousands gathered a day after Trump was sworn in.

Though smaller than the historic 2017 crowd, women's rights advocates came in droves.

Participants carried signs blasting President Trump and supporting Democratic opponent Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris.

Hundreds of people gathered on Boston Common on for the fourth Women's March since Donald Trump took office in 2016.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH
Brianna Sink of Sunapee, New Hampshire holds a sign while attending the Boston Women's March.
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A woman wearing leggings featuring former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg scales a fence along the Boston Common.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH
Mariah Jacobsen (left) of Pemborke, Mass. and Madison Harakles (right) of Longmeadow, Mass. carry signs at the Boston Women's March.
Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Many marchers were focused on how Amy Coney Barrett and a more conservative Supreme Court could affect abortion rights.

Allison Barnabe, 26, of Ellicott City, Md., told NPR that she is worried that Roe v. Wade could be overturned and that abortion rights may be eroded.

"The fact that I am living in a country now where I am concerned, and I've never had to be, is a very scary thought," Barnabe said.

Allison Barnabe, at the D.C. rally, said she is worried that Roe v. Wade could be overturned and that abortion rights may be eroded.
Sarah McCammon / NPR

Marches also brought crowds past the Supreme Court building. Images of the late Justice Ginsburg appeared throughout the crowd. At least one sign made reference to Ginsburg's request that the nomination process await the results of the election.

At a rally, Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women's Law Center called the late justice the "architect of our foundational rights" in the U.S. She also delivered a litany against Trump nominee Barrett, saying this week's confirmation hearings left her "without a doubt" that Barrett would "undermine our rights."

Demonstrators gather to take part in the nationwide Women's March.
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A pro-life supporter argues with pro-choice advocates in Washington D.C.
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A demonstrator holds a sign saying Women's Rights Are Human Rights.
Carol Guzy for NPR

"She will undermine our access to reproductive health care, to abortion from voting rights to climate change. She refused to even answer basic questions," Goss Graves told the crowd.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on Barrett's nomination this week, which if successful, would mean a full floor vote later this month.

Elsewhere, participants in this year's event confronted anti-abortion-rights protesters — chanting "we have the votes" and "Roe v. Wade has got to go" — gathered at the Supreme Court building.

Carol Guzy for NPR

Outside of Washington, protesters around the country carried the same messages.

In New York, marchers took to Wall Street, chanting, "Donald Trump has got to go," ABC News reports.

A march beginning at Philadelphia's Independence Hall moved toward city hall during the afternoon. Protesters took the opportunity to include racial justice and transgender rights alongside abortion rights during the Philadelphia event, WHYY reports.

Hundreds also turned out in Cleveland, according to WKSU. Speaking before an event there, Ruth Gray of Cleveland's chapter of the National Congress of Black Women similarly touched on themes of intersectionality.

"We have to address the issues in this country. The 'isms' in this country. The systemic racism in this country. The systemic oppression in this country," Gray said.

Marchers also gathered in downtown Chicago and other major cities.

Sister events weren't confined to major cities. In Geneva, Ill., a city some 40 miles west of Chicago, dozens gathered in an intersection, holding signs honoring Ginsburg, Northern Public Radio reports.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Barring a major surprise, Senate Republicans have the votes to confirm President Trump's nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to the U.S. Supreme Court, giving the court a solid conservative majority. And that was very much on the minds of women's rights activists who turned out in cities across the country this weekend, like Jenny Lawson of Planned Parenthood Votes, who addressed marchers in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENNY LAWSON: It is not hyperbole to say that everything is on the line this November. We cannot afford four more years of this administration attacking our access to reproductive health care and rights.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, activists are trying to use their loss on the Barrett confirmation to drive votes on Election Day.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: For many of the younger women who turned out this weekend to oppose Judge Barrett's nomination, this could be a turning point they never imagined. Ashley Thomas is 25 and lives in Baltimore. She says she has friends living in countries where abortion is not permitted.

ASHLEY THOMAS: I hear horror stories from them all the time of people they know and, you know, what they've been through to get access to abortions. And it just - I never thought we'd see it here.

MCCAMMON: The Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide will turn 48 in a few months. That means that for many American women, there's never been a time when abortion was not legal. Deanne Adams is 52, born just a few years before Roe. She brought her 14-year-old daughter from their home in Maryland to the march.

DEANNE ADAMS: It's her rights and her future that are at stake. So it's really important that we all get out and show our voices and our strength.

MCCAMMON: Adams says she is worried about the future of reproductive rights for her daughter and others.

ADAMS: I think that a lot of our kids don't know how quickly something can be snatched from them.

MCCAMMON: With the Senate poised to confirm Barrett, activists are hoping to motivate voters like Adams to turn out in support of Democrats up and down the November ballot. That was the message at rallies across the country organized by the Women's March and other reproductive rights groups. In Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood's Jenny Lawson said the only way to fight back against a rushed Supreme Court confirmation process is to vote.

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LAWSON: We are mobilizing voters today because Republican senators cannot keep their jobs when they steal Supreme Court seats while people are voting and while the election is happening.

MCCAMMON: But for Republicans, confirming Barrett means delivering on a key campaign promise from President Trump - to appoint conservative justices who would oppose abortion rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe V. Wade has got to go. Hey, hey, ho, ho...

MCCAMMON: After marching to the National Mall Saturday, abortion rights activists were met by groups who'd come to support Judge Barrett. Among them was Sara Brown, an 18-year-old college student from Richmond, Va. Brown said with Barrett's impending confirmation, she hopes to eventually see the end of Roe v. Wade.

SARA BROWN: It's been a long time coming, but still, the - like, we've been fighting for so long. I mean, I'm only 18. I've been a part of this movement for a few years, and so I don't know. It's very exciting and very hopeful for the future of this country.

MCCAMMON: Promising to overturn Roe may be an effective strategy for turning out the Republican base, but closing in on that promise could have a downside for Republicans. According to national polls, a majority of Americans believe Roe should remain in place, a message progressive activists are taking to voters looking ahead to November 3.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.