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Women's March Supporters Keep The Focus On Defeating Trump


Women opposed to President Trump and his policies face a challenge. Two years ago, they organized one of the largest protest days in American history. The first Women's March came the day after the presidential inauguration. Now organizers are struggling to stay unified, so the third annual march this Saturday is seen as a test, just as the presidential campaign begins. NPR's Asma Halid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Angie Beem was a woman who didn't pay attention to politics much. Sure, she voted, but that's about it. During the 2016 campaign, though, she started noticing troubling Facebook posts.

ANGIE BEEM: My family were starting to be racist and saying horrible things, and I didn't recognize them.

KHALID: She felt like Donald Trump was empowering people to be mean. And so when he won, she decided she had to do something. She became the president of the Washington State chapter of the Women's March. But at the end of this month, that group is dissolving. Beem says it's because of the national leadership.

BEEM: They're anti-Semitic. I mean, they claim they aren't, but they are. They're being racist.

KHALID: The accusations are a long and complicated story. In a nutshell, one of the founders of the national march attended an event last year with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He's known to spout anti-Semitic slurs, but his defenders say he and his group have done a lot of positive things for people of color in poor communities.

Another founder, Linda Sarsour, has been an outspoken critic of the United States' relationship with Israel, and Beem found her opinions troubling, too. Sarsour denies any allegations of anti-Semitism. She says the women's movement, let alone the Democratic Party, has never been a united front.

LINDA SARSOUR: I think the Women's March is actually reflective of this idea that you can create a big tent. But that doesn't mean that the people inside of the tent are always going to agree on everything. And in fact, they might have very public fights about the things that they don't agree with.

KHALID: Sarsour says the idea of creating a multiracial women's movement is new. And so the fact that people are trying it, even if it is messy, is progress. She says it's what the Democratic Party needs to focus on in 2020. And Aimee Allison, a progressive activist from the Bay Area, agrees.

AIMEE ALLISON: If you look at women of color's participation in this last election, women of color and black women in particular delivered wins for Democrats.

KHALID: Both Allison and Sarsour say the party needs to put issues like racial justice and immigration at the center of the debate. But Lanae Erickson has some alternative advice. She's with the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way.

LANAE ERICKSON: I think the biggest lesson is that beating Trump can concentrate the mind.

KHALID: A lot of Democratic activists say you keep the big tent united by focusing on a common foe. Erickson says Democrats inherently have a harder job keeping everyone satisfied because the party is just more ideologically and demographically diverse than the GOP. She says the strength of that first march back in 2017 was that women were protesting for all kinds of different things under one umbrella.

ERICKSON: I think the Women's March was one of those things that was kind of like Barack Obama. It could mean to you whatever you wanted it to mean.

KHALID: That's a lesson Erickson hopes the Democratic Party heeds as it heads into 2020. Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg says all this talk about a schism in the Women's March is elitist and kind of irrelevant to most women who are just frustrated by the president.

ANNA GREENBERG: I'm not dismissing or diminishing some of those divisions, and it may lead to less enthusiasm among some people. But it's a whole other swath of less engaged people who just want to come out and march.

KHALID: Sherri Masson is one of those women. She leads a local indivisible group in a conservative Detroit suburb.

SHERRI MASSON: We decided that the Women's March was larger, was bigger than a small group of people that were organizing it.

KHALID: And so she's still planning to go. Masson says the march encouraged people who had never volunteered for an election before to make calls and knock on doors during the midterms.

MASSON: It answered that question that people had the morning after the election - what can I do? Oh, my gosh. We have to do something. And I think it sort of gave us that something.

KHALID: And, she says, even in her little group of women, there are disagreements. But what keeps them together is an urgency to defeat Donald Trump.

Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.