Thousands of protesters are planning to descend on downtown Washington on Sunday to voice opposition to the white supremacist rally planned for late afternoon at Lafayette Square across from the White House.
Protest organizers from a wide range of groups say they have been working for weeks to prepare for the event and have secured permits to gather at Lafayette Square as well as nearby locations. Some plan to meet at the Lincoln Memorial and march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where scheduled speakers include New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actor Nick Cannon.
The number of protesters across Washington will likely dwarf the number of participants in the white supremacist rally. Jason Kessler, the organizer for that event, stated in his permit application that he expected up to 400 people. But it is unclear how many will show up.
For protesters, the emphasis will be on telling Kessler and his followers that their message is not welcome in Washington. Kessler is one of the lead organizers of the violent Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Va., last August that led to the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man police say identified himself as a Nazi drove a car into a crowd.
Kessler is holding his Washington event, which he is billing as a “white civil rights rally” on the anniversary of the Charlottesville rally.
“We are united in supporting diverse communities and we vehemently oppose white supremacy and everything Unite the Right 2 stands for,” said Michelle Styczynski, a member of Democratic Socialists of America and an organizer of the D.C. United Against Hate rally.
That rally has a permit for 1,000 protesters and is expected to be the largest counter-rally taking place. Styczynski said she expects participants with a range of political backgrounds from far-left to moderates to conservatives “who agree that white supremacy is abhorrent.”
The event will include speeches and music and will culminate at approximately 3:30 p.m. with a march from Freedom Plaza to Lafayette Square to confront rallygoers there.
Maurice Cook, an organizer for March for Racial Justice, another group taking part in protests Sunday, said it was important for him as a black man to be present, in part to pay respect to the generations before him who endured persecution and fought for civil rights.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of those who made sacrifices to ensure opportunities for me,” said Cook, a Washington resident who was in Charlottesville last year to protest Unite the Right rallygoers. “We need to build something to fight against this white supremacy in a sustained way. I don’t want children to experience this again.”
President Donald Trump, who is not scheduled to be at the White House on Sunday, has not remarked on the anniversary event. A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.