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Celebrity Speakers Expected at Women’s March, Despite Controversies

Much of the media attention on this year’s Women’s March has focused on discord: Allegations that some of its leaders made anti-Semitic remarks, the association of one of its co-founders with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the decision by a number of high profile politicians not to attend.

While those controversies have overshadowed the build up to this year’s events, they will go on, and in many cases, with an extensive lineup of speakers.

In Washington, the march will take place even in the midst of a protracted government shutdown and the threat of a mix of rain and snow. In Los Angeles, the weather has cleared but the city is in the grips of a massive teacher’s strike.

In Los Angeles, where the march is organized by a group separate from the national organization, the list of speakers released by organizers include Laverne Cox, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Connie Britton, Laura Dern, Nicole Richie, Gloria Allred, Adam Rippon, Ricki Lake and Rosie Perez.

On Friday, the national organizers unveiled a Women’s Agenda, which even starts by acknowledging the challenge organizers have in maintaining the energy of a movement. “Historically, protest movements are difficult to sustain,” it reads. “The raw energy of the people dissipates over time without an ideological frame to continue building power.” The intersectionality agenda focuses on three policy priorities “that intersect with all committees and affect the rights of all women: universal healthcare and Medicare for all, equal rights to the Constitution, and ending war.”

By some estimates, the march drew 3.3 million people worldwide in its first year, the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The crowds were smaller but still large last year, as speakers focused on organizing for the midterms. Trump actually tweeted a message last year that tried, in his own way, to see the march as a positive, writing, “Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”

Still, despite the possibility of significant crowds this year, some high-profile figures are not attending this year. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke at the event in D.C. in 2018, said that she was not planning to attend, albeit that was before President Trump canceled her plans to travel to Afghanistan along with a congressional delegation. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who spoke in 2017, said that she had no plans to attend and instead was focused on events related to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The Democratic National Committee is not participating as a sponsor.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wrote in an op ed in USA Today on Friday that she would not participate, writing, “While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.” She said that she will join local marches that are separate from the national structure.

Wasserman Schultz was referring to one of the national group’s founders, Tamika Mallory, who appeared on “The View” this week and was asked about her past praise of Farrakhan. She said that she disagreed with many of his statements, she didn’t condemn them.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who recently entered the 2020 presidential race, plans to participate in a locally organized march in Des Moines. Her spokeswoman said that she “strongly condemns anti-Semitism from anyone, in all forms, and believes that it has no place in a movement for women’s empowerment or anywhere else. She is looking forward to being in Iowa and will not turn her back on the thousands of Iowa women who are joining this locally organized march to advocate for the issues that deeply impact them and their families.”

Some freshmen members of Congress, such as Hill, plan to attend local marches. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said that she planned to participate in a Michigan march, and Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), along with Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) were on the bill for a march in Geneva, Ill.

Marches are taking place in about 100 cities across the country, according to organizers. Here’s a glance at some of those expected to draw the biggest crowds.

Washington, DC: The march will kickoff at 10 a.m. at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, with plans to rally past the Trump Hotel just a block away. The location was changed this week from the National Mall, as the forecast calls for inclement weather. Although the government is in shutdown mode, the National Park Service, which oversees the mall, has continued to allow for events that were submitted before the shutdown began. In fact, last year’s march, staged at the Lincoln Memorial, also took place during a government shutdown, albeit one that lasted just a couple of days.

The organizers have not yet released a final list of speakers, but they have been emphasizing the extent to which they have been reaching out to the Jewish community after claims were made last year in Tablet magazine that some of its original founders made anti-Semitic remarks. “Trying to dismantle oppression, while working within systems of oppression, is hard. We are deeply invested in building better and deeper relationships with the Jewish community.”

The Washington march also signed up a list of “cultural ambassadors” that include America Ferrera, Edie Falco, Harry Belafonte, Jackie Cruz, Julianna Margulies, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei  and Kathy Najimy.

Hotels are hoping for big turnout. Eaton DC has scheduled a weekend of activities that includes a panel, movie screening and art installation.

Los Angeles: The event will start at 9 a.m. PT in Pershing Square, then march to City Hall for a program of speakers and entertainment.

Organizers point out that they are a separate group from the Washington event. They posted a statement to their website denouncing Farrakhan’s comments about Jewish and LGBT people, “WMLA does not share leadership, structure or funding with Women’s March Inc. and does not have any input on the makeup of their leadership of decision making,” the organizers said.

New York: Reflecting the split in the movement, there actually will be two marches in New York.

One is organized by the Action Network, and it is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. at Foley Square. The other, being planned by the Women’s March Alliance, which emphasizes its independence from the national organization, will start at 10 a.m. at Columbus Circle and end at 6th Avenue and 45th Street.

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