There’s been a lot of handwringing this week about the Women’s March on Washington, a rally set for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The event, which attracted tens of thousands of Facebook responses before it even had an organizing team, was originally supposed to take place at the Lincoln Memorial. As I reported last month, the organizers of the march have known for a while that it won’t actually happen there. Several other organizations applied for National Park Service permits for that location at that time before the Women’s March on Washington did, making it next to impossible that they’d get the spot.
Now, spurred by comments from a lawyer for another group that wants to protest the inauguration, media outlets are accusing the forthcoming Trump administration of purposely keeping women from holding their event as planned. “Women’s March on Washington barred from Lincoln Memorial,” the Guardian reported. Salon is convinced that “Trump’s Presidential Inauguration Committee has blocked access to the landmark Lincoln Memorial in D.C.”
This is a completely misleading way to frame the story. First of all, it’s not “Trump’s Presidential Inauguration Committee”—the inaugural committee is not directed by the incoming administration, and for what it’s worth, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are members. Here is what’s actually happening: Some months ago, as it does up to a year before any presidential inauguration, the NPS filed a blanket permit request on behalf of the inaugural committee, effectively reserving the National Mall, the area around the White House, and their environs (including the Lincoln Memorial) for whatever inauguration festivities the committee might want to plan. That permit request covers several days before and after inauguration, to account for after-events and the set-up and take-down of bleachers, barriers, stages, and security.
The NPS does not issue any permits to other groups that request use of these grounds during the inauguration window until the inaugural committee, which also plans the inauguration parade, decides what it’ll need and when. The Washington Post reports that it is not at all out of the ordinary for the inaugural committee to still have its plans up in the air this far in advance of the event. In other words, there’s no sign that the committee might be enacting a plan to hog all public land, whether it needs it or not, until after inauguration. “This is always the way it happens,” a NPS spokesman told the Post.
What is out of the ordinary is the fact that so many groups have applied for NPS permits for inauguration weekend, when D.C. security and traffic are both notoriously difficult to navigate. Usually, just a few organizations want to organize protests at inauguration. This year, about 20 different groups want to hold their events on federal grounds.
That’s the main reason why claims that the Women’s March on Washington is being “barred” from the Lincoln Memorial are untrue. As the NPS spokesman told me last month, even if the inaugural committee didn’t have a lock on the space, four other organizations had already applied for permits at that location by the time the Women’s March on Washington got its application in. The NPS issues permits on a first-come, first-served basis, so all four of those organizations would come first. And since it’s public land, any ralliers can come protest at that location even if they don’t have a permit; they just probably won’t be able to set up a stage and sound equipment like they’d hoped. More likely, the NPS will help them find a different location nearby. That’s a shame for people who wanted the historic steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but it’s not the inaugural committee’s fault.