Participants and artwork at this weekend's Catharsis on the Mall event will be fully clothed, as organizers have scrapped all plans to include elements of nudity for the event.
Activists originally intended to bring a 45-foot-tall statue of a nude woman to the base of the Washington Monument.
When the National Park Service said no, organizers decided to point a 26-foot-tall structure showing pictures of local women’s nude chests toward the nearby White House, as a flashy demand for equality and respect.
Organizers no longer intend to do that, either.
“It was an artistic decision,” said Natalie White, a spokesperson for the event, which will be capped with a fire show and bonfire at 9 p.m. on Saturday.
By deciding to cover up, organizers will avoid yet another potential First Amendment fight ahead of the gathering that draws inspiration from the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Last year, organizers failed to convince a federal judge to allow the ceremonial torching of a 24-foot wooden “Temple of Rebirth” as a means of communal healing in the wake of President Trump’s unexpected election victory. The judge cited safety concerns and only allowed smaller fires.
The group organizing the protest was unable to file a lawsuit against the authorities who denied permission for the statue because they weren't able to exhaust their bureaucratic appeals quickly enough. The statue was named R-Evolution, and it was intended to remain near the Washington Monument a few months after the Nov. 10-12 Catharsis event, and remain through the Jan. 21 first anniversary of Women’s March on Washington.
The nude-photo idea was conceived as a stand-in for the towering statue, which was built with crowdsourced funds and not intended for burning.
Organizers of Catharsis say they are exploring legal avenues to make sure R-Evolution, now on the West Coast, arrives for the anniversary of the massive anti-Trump protest.
“We are still evaluating possible legal action,” said Robert Hafert, a local attorney also known as Roman Burns who is leading permitting efforts for Catharsis.
“We want her to be up for the anniversary of the women’s march and it’s interesting they want to take that away from us,” White said. “The First Amendment is in peril when you silence one group of people.”
White said she’s not concerned that someone inside the White House would view female nudity with lust, but wanted the White House to appreciate the underlying message. First lady Melania Trump herself posed nude during her modeling career, she noted.
The main pre-bonfire draw at Catharsis will be a 60-foot wide temple complex under construction by artist Michael Verdon. Inside, a circular temple will contain four-foot-tall secular prayer wheels on which visitors can write messages.
Verdon said the wheels — eight in total — will make sounds when touched, creating a harmony in unison. He said the subsequent burning of the wheels is a special opportunity for emotional healing. One woman is considering adding her mother’s diaries to the blaze, he said, finding reading them upsetting and throwing them away disrespectful.
“It becomes this way of letting go of things dear to their hearts that might feel weird tossing in the garbage,” Verdon said of attendees.
The event is now in its third year.
Some say the countercultural gathering that began with a protest against drug prohibition probably could have gotten away with a nude image pointed at the White House.
National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said he hadn't heard of the proposed topless composite, but that organizers don't need prior approval for banners displayed on an already approved 26-foot scaffolding structure.
“As a First Amendment matter, we don’t evaluate content,” he said, a contention organizers may again test in court.