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Third Women's March faces winter weather, a shutdown and anti-Semitism charges

"It’s such a movement, and it’s so empowering to be around so many people who are celebrating women and fighting for change," one of the marchers said.
Image: 2019 Women's March in Berlin
A woman holds a sign reading 'We're still here' during the 2019 Women's March in Berlin on Jan. 19, 2019. The march is to support women's rights, against racism and violence against women.Markus Heine / EPA

WASHINGTON — Marchers gathered for the third Women’s March on Saturday, taking to the cold and wet streets for the second such march to occur during a government shutdown.

Attendees this year appeared less in number than Women's Marches in the past, potentially a result of allegations of anti-Semitism made against the organizers. Nonetheless, those who show up for the march expressed excitement for the event.

"It’s such a movement, and it’s so empowering to be around so many people who are celebrating women and fighting for change," said Shannon Lydon, a recent Boston College grad who is attending the march for the first time in Washington.

The Women’s March organizers said it would be difficult to estimate the turnout overall this year, but said “there are almost 300 marches happening nationwide.”

They said the 2017 march, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, “was the product of a specific political moment that can't be replicated. The work, however, has never stopped.”

At the march in New York City, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., joined demonstrators as they made their way downtown.

"It’s so exciting. It’s so thrilling to see so many New Yorkers, to see so many women across the country that are coming together and showing that we’re still taking up a presence and we’re still going to push for the agenda that we elected so many people to advance," she told MSNBC.

Though the progressive firebrand took to the streets, the DNC and many other Democratic leaders have distanced themselves from the march.

Mallory and Perez have said since that they condemn anti-Semitism and attempted to distance themselves from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made numerous anti-Semitic and homophobic statements. Mallory attended an event hosted by Farrakhan.

The controversy has also caused a rival march organized by The Independent Women’s Forum to spring up, which is planned to occur simultaneously.

But those in attendance said that these allegations should not disrupt the focus of the Women's March.

"We believe that the Women’s March has shown itself to be a broad tent, that it has both publicly — in words and in actions — indicated that they are against Anti-Semitism, against bigotry," said David Weinreich, 47, who was attending the march from Silver Spring, Maryland. "And while some of the statements that we’ve seen have been concerning, we don’t think that means that we shouldn’t be out here in solidarity with people of all kinds, of all religions, all races, of all backgrounds in support of the issues that we care about."

Jennifer Beshaw, 49, works in companion care for the elderly and she agreed. "As much as it’s concerning, we should be more concerned with the government. I’m not saying the stuff that happened isn’t pertinent, but we don’t need to break into fringe groups."

Douglas Chavarria, 23, lives and works in Maryland. He said that gender shouldn’t matter in a conversation over equality, but noted that he was troubled by the allegations of anti-Semitism.

He added, however, that it shouldn’t derail the march’s mission.

"We shouldn’t forget what the purpose and the message of this day is and has been for many years: In the 20th century we’re still fighting for women’s rights," Chavarria said.

Many others said that the allegations should not dampen the central tenet of the March — to empower women. That goal alone should override any individuals' actions.

Rebecca Davis, 31, brought her daughter MacKenzie Davis, 10, to the event and MacKenzie was quick to announce that "I already love it." She held a sign with a quote by Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter book series: "While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one."

"I'm showing her that so many people can come together and make a difference," Davis said of her daughter.

Those who attended the march said they had many reasons to brave the cold and wet conditions, with many women pointing to the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court amid allegations of sexual misconduct as proof that more work needed to be done.

"Especially with the Kavanaugh stuff, the government shutdown, everything that’s going on right now, I think it made us really motivated to want to travel up here again,” said Katie Rash, 36, a therapist from Roanoke, Virginia.

Image: US-politics-demonstration
Protesters hold signs during the Women's Unity Rally at Foley Square on Jan. 19, 2019 in New York City.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

As the second consecutive march to occur during a government shutdown, and with anticipated wintry precipitation on its way, the Women's March organization switched its starting location from the Lincoln Memorial to Freedom Plaza, organizers said.

Acting Chief of Public Affairs for National Park Service Mike Litterst told NBC News that the lapse of appropriations stemming from the government shutdown would not affect their ability to hold the event.

"As is always the case, including the events during the shutdown now and in January of 2018, the Women's March will take place regardless of the lapse of appropriations, and the National Park Service and United States Park Police will ensure public safety and the protection of park resources during the event,” he said.

“The federal government shutdown has minimal effect on the daily functions of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). MPD is fully equipped to handle First Amendment assemblies of any stature in the District of Columbia,” Alaina Gertz, public affairs specialist for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, told NBC News.

Kalhan Rosenblatt and Courtney Buble reported from Washington. Phil McCausland reported from New York.