Margaret Patterson will pack up her Subaru Crosstrek in Epsom, N.H., on Friday and drive six-plus hours, likely through rain and snow, to make it to Philadelphia so she can attend the Women’s March here for the third year in a row.
“Because it’s an independent march,” said Patterson, 60, who’s originally from Bala Cynwyd, “I really want to be able to support that.”
Patterson and thousands of others are planning to handle what could be cold, snowy, messy weather to attend the third Women’s March on Philadelphia that’s been organized by Philly Women Rally, a group unaffiliated with the national Women’s March organization that was behind the 2017 Women’s March on Washington protesting President Donald Trump a day after his inauguration.
At the same time, thousands more are planning to attend another Women’s March on Philadelphia that day, this one organized by Women’s March Pennsylvania, a group that is affiliated with the national Women’s March and that didn’t put on a march in Philadelphia the last two years.
About 50,000 people protested on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in both the Women’s March on Philadelphia in 2017 and the second one in 2018. Organizers of both groups say they hope they can keep interest high this year after the midterm elections that sent more women to Congress (and the Pennsylvania legislature) than ever before. But they’re up against bad weather, questions about the national organization’s leadership, and confusion about the two protests.
Both events start at 10 a.m. Saturday, and both are to take place on the Parkway. The march organized by Philly Women Rally will begin at Logan Square, from which protesters will then walk to Eakins Oval, where there will be programming and speakers in front of the Art Museum. The event put together by Women’s March Pennsylvania, which is more of a rally, will take place several blocks away at LOVE Park.
The organizers of the events aren’t working together, according to Deja Lynn Alvarez, one of the local activists with Philly Women Rally. She said there’s a chance the two events merge, saying: “That’s not a problem. We’re about embracing all women.”
“If they choose to do a secondary event, that’s on them. Do it,” Alvarez said. “We don’t have to work together. But we also don’t need to compete with each other. It’s not about our egos or who created what. It’s about women who go to whatever event they want.”
Shawna Knipper, who heads Women’s March Pennsylvania, generally agreed, saying, “We aren’t necessarily collaborating, but we’re also not competing.”
“There’s no animosity there,” she said. “We know it did cause a lot of confusion, but ... we appreciate the fact that we all are working toward the same goal.”
Philly Women Rally’s leadership structure remains unclear after Alvarez and her allies on the group’s board last year ousted founder Emily Cooper Morse, who they said exhibited “bullying” behavior, which Cooper Morse denies.
Then, last month, the remaining board members in a news release accused Cooper Morse of “stealing” $19,000 worth of donations, an allegation she “categorically denies.” Cooper Morse said she withdrew the funds due to concerns that the other board members would mismanage them; at the time, one had announced a bid for City Council. Now, lawyers are involved, and both sides have filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State claiming they’re the rightful leaders of Philly Women Rally.
Cooper Morse and Alvarez both said there’s been no resolution to the dispute over the $19,000, though Alvarez said it represented a significant chunk of the funds the group needed to put on this year’s event. She said the group made some concessions in terms of supplies and struck deals with vendors to cover needed services.
All this has happened as the National Women’s March organization, which is behind the group organizing the rally at LOVE Park, has faced its own troubles as its cochairs have been accused of being anti-Semitic by sympathizing with (and repeating the rhetoric of) Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.
Some local chapters in other areas of the country formally broke with the national organization amid the controversy. Knipper has said that while Women’s March Pennsylvania stands with the national leaders, it “rejects the hate speech and anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan in all its forms.”
Some potential attendees say they’re aware of the anti-Semitism charges that have plagued the national organization, including Olephia Crawford, a Philadelphia native who now lives in Williamsport, Pa. She’s planning on marching in Philadelphia on Saturday and said the protest — whichever one she attends — is too important to skip.
In Crawford’s case, she said she’s demonstrating against the Trump administration because she wants to protect access to affordable health care for people with preexisting conditions. Crawford, 63, is legally blind and on the liver transplant list.
“He has set out to divide people by race, gender, jobs,” she said. “There’s favoritism for the upper echelon and a lack of concern for the low man on the totem pole.”
Others are just focused on getting themselves — and about a dozen teenage girls — there without incident. Nikki Butler, 46, of Olney, will make her way south to attend her first Women’s March on Philadelphia along with members of Girl Scout troops from Mount Airy and West Oak Lane who are giddy about attending.
“As I read the description of the march, their eyes were lighting up,” said Butler, who’s been involved with scouting for 25 years. “The kids know more about what’s going on in the world than sometimes we do.”