NEW YORK - Organizers of the Women's March on Washington scheduled for Saturday have increased planned security measures in light of a downtown riot on Friday that led to violent clashes with police, two of whom were wounded, and the arrest of nearly 100 protesters.
“Security is a top priority for us,” says Women’s March spokeswoman Alexandra Barnett, who is expecting hundreds of thousands of participants Saturday. The march is expected to draw five times the number of people who turned out for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump Friday, according to Slate. But Barnett wouldn’t confirm that estimate.
Organizers stress that Friday’s demonstrators - a random mix of private citizens, some of whom vandalized property, and who had no unifying theme other than disrupting the Trump inauguration - have nothing to do with the Women’s March, a non-violent protest with a positive message of support for women’s and human rights that’s been in the works for months.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate safety issues to address.
“More streets are being closed off and organizers are urging marchers to write the number of the legal hotline and emergency contacts on their arms with a Sharpie in case they lose their cellphones or reception,” says Jamie Allen Black, executive director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, one of the sponsors of the march.
“From the beginning, we’ve been taking security very seriously,” says Barnett, pointing out that organizers secured permits, which Friday’s protestors never did, hired 1,000 plus trained marshals, and a private security firm, and have been coordinating very closely with local police to ensure everyone feels protected. They also worked with the National Park Service, Metropolitan Police Department, Homeland Security and Capitol Police.
They’ve also been proactive regarding legal concerns, reaching out to lawyers, legal groups, as well as legal observers (typically law students) trained by the National Lawyers Guild, to ensure everyone’s civil rights are respected.
“If everyone abides by the principles of peaceful protest, we don’t anticipate any arrests or any problems,” says Barnett.
Concerns for the future of civil rights issues under President Trump have been a central point of contention throughout his campaign and changes Friday to the whitehouse.gov website did little to calm tensions. Pages dealing with civil rights and LGBT rights were removed from the site. Instead, revised policy statements call for “more effective policing" and “more law enforcement.” In the law and order section, the administration pledges, "Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” That message may raise a red flag with members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who are part of the Women’s March.
Earlier in the week, President Donald Trump tweeted about the presence of “bikers for Trump,” who showed up on Friday and clashed with protesters. Will they try to intimidate women and gay and lesbian couples at the Women’s March?
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” says Barnett, who urged march-goers to download their app, check regularly for updated information and to stay peaceful. “Wear comfortable shoes, bring water, have a point person and follow the guidelines on our website.”
She stresses that the march is expected to be harmonious, full of mothers and daughters, led by faith leaders who are preaching unity, not anarchy, and for families with young children, many of whom will be in strollers.
“That’s why this march is so important,” she says, “to let the government know that we’re watching them and that women’s rights, racial justice, reproductive rights, disability rights and LGBT rights are human rights and need to be respected.”
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