News & Politics

Here’s What You Need to Know About Al Sharpton’s March on Washington

There will be a capacity limit to the number of people around the Reflecting Pool

Coronavirus 2020

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Next Friday, Al Sharpton will lead his “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” March on Washington. The event is  being helmed by Sharpton’s National Action Network in partnership with the NAACP, the National Urban League, AFSCME, The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Hispanic Federation, The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and others.

Announced back in early June amid the international George Floyd protests, the march will take place on August 28, the 57th anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and was expected to draw tens of thousands. 

But the nation’s coronavirus situation has since changed. Parts of the South and West have seen explosions of case numbers, and in the District transmission rates are above the target threshold, and individuals visiting from Covid hotspot states have to quarantine for two weeks. Which makes the idea of pulling off an in-person national rally rather daunting. As a result, NAN has had to rethink what a national gathering might look like. There will still be a social-distanced, central rally on the National Mall, but auxiliary rallies and virtual offerings will help keep crowd numbers to a manageable size. Here’s what you need to know.

When is the event? How can I attend?

Attendees will be allowed to enter the designated area around the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial at 7 AM. Attendees will need to have a ticket to attend. You can register ahead of time at NAN’s website, but walk-up tickets will still be available. To gain entrance, attendees must wear a mask at all times and pass the temperature check at the 17th Street entrance. Masks will be available for those who don’t have one. Pre-programming will run from 8 AM to 11 AM, and the regular program will run from 11 AM to 1 PM. At 1 PM, the group will make a socially-distanced march from the Lincoln Memorial to the MLK Memorial.

What’s it going to look like? 

There will be limited, spaced-out seating at the Lincoln Memorial circle. Some of those seats will be reserved for those with mobility issues, the rest will be up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis. The rest of the attendees will be cordoned into sections of a “grid” that will run the span of the Reflecting Pool to help ensure social distancing. Each grid will have banners and other reminders of Covid-safety guidelines, and volunteers will ensure that attendees are keeping apart. The actual march will be led by Sharpton, MLK III, members of George Floyd’s family, and other special guests. The crowd will be released one grid section at a time to march behind the Lincoln Memorial and along Ohio Drive to West Potomac Park. Brief remarks will be made there, and volunteers will be present to enforce social distancing.

Who is expected to speak?

The official lineup is still being confirmed, but expect addresses from Sharpton, MLK III, and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. The family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and others are expected to speak, in addition to members of Congress.

How is the group working with local activists?

Much of the pre-programming will feature speeches from local youth activists and DC families that have been affected by police violence among others. Black Lives Matter DC organizers have been invited to speak as well.

How many are expected to show?

The group’s initial permit with the National Park Service planned for roughly 100,000 people, but NAN and DC officials expect smaller numbers than that, as the group is no longer providing buses for individuals from hotspots. NAN DC Bureau Chief Ebonie Riley says they’ll have a clearer picture of expected numbers when DC updates its list of Covid hotspots next Monday.

I’m not planning on attending. Is this going to affect my commute?

Potentially. There will be street closures around the White House from Constitution to L Streets, Independence Ave. will be closed from Ohio Drive to 12th Street, and 12th Street will be closed from Independence to L Street. The event is scheduled to wrap around 3 PM, so there shouldn’t be any traffic disruptions during the evening rush.

I thought Covid numbers were rising in the District? Is this a safe thing to do?

Sharpton has repeatedly said that his event will follow proper safety protocol, and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser says she’s been in conversations with NAN to ensure they’re respecting local health ordinances. The group will no longer be bussing in individuals from hotspot states, and will encourage individuals from those areas to attend auxiliary rallies in nearby cities. The entire event will be outside, and participants will have to be masked and social distancing at all times, says Riley. During the George Floyd protests, DC didn’t find that large, outdoor protests contributed to spikes in Covid case numbers. However, NAN will be bussing in protestors from non-hotspot states, and there’s little the District can do to ensure that hotspot visitors who provide their own means of transportation are actually quarantining.

I want to show my support but I’m not comfortable going into crowds yet. What can I do?

No worries! The NAACP has launched a Virtual March on Washington on August 27 and 28 that will coincide with Sharpton’s event. The evening of the 27th will feature musical performances, reflections, and speeches from young activists. Sharpton’s addresses and march will be livestreamed the afternoon of the 28th, and that evening will feature a keynote address and performances from award-winning musical artists.

My friend wants to come into town from a hotspot state to attend the event. Is that even allowed?

Well, it kind of depends. Under the Mayor’s travel-related quarantine order, any travel into the District for less than 24 hours is considered essential travel. So if she comes in for the day and leaves, then technically, yes, she can attend. But if she’s planning to make a weekend of it, think again – she’ll be required to quarantine for 14 days. The best and most responsible thing for her to do is to attend one of the local auxiliary rallies or to tune in online.

She’s really insistent on coming. Is it okay if she stays with me?

Sure, if you’re okay with having a quarantine buddy camped out in your place for two weeks. She’ll need to be isolated from you and other members of your household as much as possible. If that’s not feasible, you should probably quarantine as well.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.