LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — Thousands of demonstrators are taking to the streets of downtown Los Angeles for the third annual Women’s March.

Speakers began addressing the crowd at 9 a.m. Those scheduled to speak include discrimination attorney Gloria Allred, California State Assembly member Wendy Carrillo and U.S. Representative Katie Hill, among others.

“I think in this political arena it’s important to show your voice in a respectful way and, you know, let people know this is a wonderful country, it’s always been a wonderful country and it will continue to be — and we’ll just have to reunite and stand together,” said demonstrator Polly Maza.

The march began at 10 a.m. in Pershing Square and continues to City Hall before looping back. Street closures were expected throughout the area.

(credit: Joy Benedict/CBS)

The Women’s March was simultaneously returning to dozens of cities across the country amid controversy over the federal government shutdown.

The original march in 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, drew hundreds of thousands of people. The exact size of the turnout remains subject to a politically charged debate, but it’s generally regarded as the largest Washington protest since the Vietnam era.

(credit: Joy Benedict/CBS)

Organizers this year submitted a permit application estimating that up to 500,000 people would participate in Washington, D.C. but the actual turnout was expected to be far lower.

The original plan called for participants to gather on the National Mall. But with the forecast calling for snow and freezing rain and the National Park Service no longer plowing the snow, organizers changed the march’s location and route to start at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House, and head down Pennsylvania Avenue past the Trump International Hotel.

(credit: Joy Benedict/CBS)

This year’s march has been roiled by an intense ideological debate.

In November, Teresa Shook, one of the movement’s founders, accused the four main leaders of the national march organization of anti-Semitism. The accusation was leveled at two primary leaders: Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American who has criticized Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory, who has maintained an association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Shook, a retired lawyer from Hawaii, has been credited with sparking the movement by creating a Facebook event that went viral and snowballed into the massive protest on Jan. 21, 2017. In a Facebook post, she claimed Sarsour and Mallory, along with fellow organizers Bob Bland and Carmen Perez, had “steered the Movement away from its true course” and called for all four to step down.

The four march organizers have denied the charge, but Sarsour has publicly expressed regret that they were not “faster and clearer in helping people understand our values.”

Despite pleas for unity, an alternate women’s march has sprung up in protest and planned a parallel rally in New York on Saturday a few blocks away from the official New York Women’s March protest.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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