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When Women’s March gathers this year, so will a rival event for ‘all women’

FILE - This March 8, 2017, file photo shows civil rights leader and activist Linda Sarsour, far left, during the International Women's Day rally and sit-down protest outside Trump International Hotel at Columbus Circle, in New York. Conflicts over control, inclusivity and alleged anti-Semitism mean that women protesting on the second anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington will have competing demonstrations Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in New York City. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

WASHINGTON — Two different events focusing on women will kick off one block apart physically — and worlds apart politically.

At Freedom Plaza will be the Women’s March, now in its third year. It has been at the focus of controversy recently over an organizer’s connection to the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. Organizers say the march’s agenda includes racial and reproductive rights, ending violence against women, supporting LGBTQ rights and universal health care/Medicare for All.

A competing rally and forum, billed as the March for All Women, is being organized by the Independent Women’s Forum, which program director Julie Gunlock describes as a “conservative, libertarian, free-market” organization.

The March for All Women, Gunlock said, is an alternative to the Women’s March. Its forum and rally will be held at Pershing Park.

“We want to be there as a place for women … who feel maybe that they’re not included,” she said, “or aren’t really welcome” at the Women’s March, which has billed itself as part of the resistance against the administration of President Donald Trump.

Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Women’s March, said everyone is welcome.

“Everybody’s welcome to our march. There are no checkpoints; there is no litmus test. If you want to come march with us, you are more than welcome.”

Sarsour did say, however, that the group has a clear agenda that includes pushing for universal health care and preventing violence against women, for example.

Gunlock said her group “has a slightly more positive message instead of sort of grievances and complaints.”

“We want to celebrate being a woman and the choices we have in our society,” she said.

Gunlock said, for example, that she works from home: “I made certain choices. I don’t make as much as I used to, but I have more flexibility, and I think a lot of women are looking for that.”

The Women’s March agenda includes a platform that calls for “paycheck fairness” to combat wage discrimination.

But Gunlock said there’s a deeper problem; citing that one of the Women’s March organizers, Tamika Mallory, once posed for a photograph with the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan, who has made anti-Semitic statements — in one instance saying he wasn’t anti-Semitic but was “anti-termite.”

“That’s concerning,” Gunlock said. “What does that say to Jewish women in this country? What does it say to women of faith?”

The controversy involving Mallory has been addressed by the group, Sarsour said, adding: “We at the Women’s March have unequivocally rejected anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia.”

Jewish women have been a critical part of the movement in her organization from the start in 2017, Sarsour said.

“We have three women who are serving on our steering committee, and in fact we will have multiple Jewish women who will be on the stage on Saturday sharing inspirational words,” Sarsour said. A group called Jewish Women of Color has also voiced its support for the Women’s March.

But Mallory’s refusal to issue a blanket statement denouncing Farrakhan has generated a backlash to the Women’s March as an organization. Sarsour said, “We should not be held accountable for the words of a man who is not part of our movement, who has no influence on our organization and actually, in fact, does not agree with our policy positions.”

Gunlock said there are other reasons that — according to her group — conservative women do not feel welcome at the Women’s March.

“We can pretend that women didn’t vote for Trump, but they did. And I think Trump supporters are not welcome” at the Women’s March.

Sarsour repeated that any woman is welcome at the event.

The Women’s March will kick off at 10 a.m. at Freedom Plaza.

The March for All Women rally and meetup also starts at 10 a.m. at Pershing Park.

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