Anti-Semitism concerns leave the future of the Women’s March in doubt
As the Women’s March leaders face controversy, some progressive groups are cutting ties.
On Saturday, women and their allies will take to the streets in cities around the world for the third annual Women’s March.
But this year, the leaders of Women’s March Inc. — one of the organizations that grew out of the original march, and the most visible public face of the march today — are facing calls to step down. The reasons include criticisms of their association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and allegations that they made anti-Semitic remarks in planning meetings.
Women’s March Inc. is a national organization led by four activists from New York City — Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland — who helped organize the first march in Washington, DC, in 2017. The group also has local chapters that are planning marches in cities around the country this year, though other local marches are not affiliated with Women’s March Inc.
The controversy has contributed to the cancellation of at least one city march, and a number of progressive groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have dropped their partnerships with the Women’s March, according to the Jewish News Syndicate.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee appears to have been removed from a list of partners on the Women’s March website.
Women’s March Inc. co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland denied allegations of anti-Semitism in an appearance on The View on Monday. Asked by co-host Meghan McCain why she would publicly associate with Farrakhan, given his anti-Semitic remarks, Mallory said, “I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.”
“Do you condemn them?” McCain asked.
“I don’t agree with these statements,” Mallory reiterated.
She also resisted calls to step down. “I am willing to lead until my term at Women’s March is up,” she said.
“Women’s March exists to fight all forms of oppression and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, classism, and ageism,” Women’s March Inc. said in a statement to Vox, in response to a question about groups dropping partnerships. “That work continues with the release of our Women’s Agenda and lobby day this week in Washington, and our anniversary Marches happening all over the country this Saturday.”
No matter what happens at those marches, the influence of the Women’s March on American feminism — and on the left more broadly — is undeniable. And a groundswell of women’s activism in the wake of the 2016 election has led to an unprecedented number of women in the halls of political power; earlier this month, a record 117 women were sworn into Congress.
The future of Women’s March Inc., and of women’s marches around the country, may be in doubt. But the impact of the Women’s March as a broader movement on American politics endures.
The controversies have caused some to distance themselves from the Women’s March
Women’s March Inc. is no stranger to controversy, having weathered debates over representation of women of color and the inclusion (or exclusion) of a variety of groups from its official platform. But criticism of the group intensified in March 2018 when Mallory attended a Nation of Islam event at which Farrakhan made anti-Semitic remarks. In November, as controversy grew over the issue, Teresa Shook, whose 2016 Facebook post kicked off the first march, called on Mallory and the other co-chairs of Women’s March Inc. to step down.
Then in December, Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel at Tablet reported that, according to others involved in planning the march, Mallory and fellow Women’s March Inc. co-chair Carmen Perez had made anti-Semitic comments themselves. At a meeting to plan the first Women’s March, Mallory and Perez “asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people,” sources told Tablet.
Mallory and the Women’s March have denied these allegations. But the Tablet report, as well as Mallory’s association with Farrakhan, has led some groups to drop their affiliation with Women’s March Inc.
In December, the Washington state chapter of the Women’s March announced that it would disband and affiliate with a different progressive group, Smart Politics. Organizers in Spokane, Washington, still plan to hold a march.
Meanwhile, earlier this month, organizers of the New Orleans Women’s March announced they were canceling this Saturday’s event.
“Many of the sister marches have asked the leaders of Women’s March Inc. to resign but as of today, they have yet to do so,” said the National Organization for Women’s Baton Rouge chapter, which organized the New Orleans march. “The controversy is dampening efforts of sister marches to fundraise, enlist involvement, [and] find sponsors, and attendee numbers have drastically declined this year. New Orleans is no exception.”
A number of progressive organizations, from the SPLC to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, have dropped their affiliations with Women’s March Inc. over concerns about anti-Semitism, according to the Jewish News Syndicate.
“Moms Demand Action isn’t an official sponsor of the Women’s March, but plenty of chapters have chosen to participate in the locally organized events,” Taylor Maxwell, a spokesperson for Moms Demand Action, told Vox. The SPLC has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.
The DNC, once listed as a march sponsor on the Women’s March Inc. website, no longer appears there, according to CNN.
“The DNC stands in solidarity with all those fighting for women’s rights and holding the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers across the country accountable,” said DNC deputy communications director Sabrina Singh in a statement to Vox. “Women are on the front lines of fighting back against this administration and are the core of our Democratic Party.”
Asked if the relationship between the DNC and the Women’s March had changed from last year to this year, a DNC official declined to comment further.
Women’s activism today is about more than marches
Women’s March Inc. has been working to repair relationships with the Jewish community. According to the Washington Post, since anti-Semitism charges were first leveled at the organization, it has added three Jewish women to its steering committee and updated its platform to include a message of support for Jewish women.
It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to convince those concerned about the anti-Semitism allegations to turn out to march on Saturday. Sociology professor Dana R. Fisher, who studies protest movements, told the Post that turnout in Washington, DC, will probably number in the tens of thousands, far fewer than the estimated 470,000 people who attended the first Women’s March following the inauguration of President Trump in 2017.
But those who marched in 2017 may also be engaging in other forms of activism. Instead of a march on Saturday, Women’s March Chicago has organized Operation Activation, which encourages women and their allies to participate in community actions like neighborhood cleanups and postcard-writing campaigns advocating for progressive legislation. The decision to hold a day of action instead of a march wasn’t inspired by controversy around Women’s March Inc., according to a Women’s March Chicago fact sheet provided to Vox. Rather, the Chicago group chose to hold a march in October 2018 to mobilize voters for the midterm elections, and decided not to host two marches back to back. The group plans to march again in 2020.
And in addition to the march on Saturday, Women’s March Inc. is releasing a federal policy platform called the Women’s Agenda and organizing a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill on Friday in support of Medicare-for-all.
Through their platform, their marches, and their Women’s Convention in October 2017 in Detroit, the Women’s March organizers changed the mainstream conversation around feminism and left-wing politics in America, prompting a wider swath of women than ever before to think about women’s rights as part of a larger set of civil rights, including racial and economic justice.
That conversation will no doubt continue at marches on Saturday. But it will also continue at community actions and other events throughout the year — and in the halls of Congress, where more women than ever before now have the opportunity to craft legislation that affects all Americans.
Whatever happens in the streets on Saturday, the legacy of the women who marched all over the world in 2017 will persist for a long time to come.