feminism

I Won’t Be Marching This Weekend. Here’s Why.

We can and must do better.

At an event in February, Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader with a long history of anti-Semitic and homophobic comments, told the crowd, “The Jews have control over those agencies of government,” and “when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.”

Farrakhan, who has compared Jews to termites, described to his audience how he was in fact doing the work of Jesus by condemning Jews.

Tamika Mallory, a co-president of the Women’s March, was in the crowd that day at the Nation of Islam event and even got a personal call-out by Farrakhan. She posted enthusiastically about the event on social media.

In 2017, Mallory posted a photo on Twitter of her with Louis Farrakhan, calling him “GOAT” — the Greatest of All Time.

On the talk show The View on Monday, Mallory was asked repeatedly by co-host Meghan McCain to condemn Louis Farrakhan for his anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry. While Mallory stated that she did not “agree” with many of Farrakhan’s previous statements, she refused to condemn either Farrakhan or his remarks, stating, “I should never be judged through the lens of a man.”

This has not been the only brush with anti-Semitism for the leadership of the Women’s March.

Both the New York Times and Tablet, a Jewish magazine who did an extensive investigation of the March’s leadership and its problems with anti-Semitism, have reported on the very first private meeting of the Women’s March activists. At that meeting two of the leaders, including Mallory, were claimed to have said that Jews should bear the weight of a special kind of collective responsibility for the exploitation of people of color. (Although the leaders deny this account of the meeting, Tablet Magazine was able to confirm the conversation through multiple sources.)

The same two leaders, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, were also accused by early leader and activist Vanessa Wruble of criticizing Wruble on the basis of her Jewish identity and then forcing her to leave the March’s leadership, according to the New York Times. (Wruble went on to found her own separate organization, March On, a coalition of independent marches outside of Washington.) Mallory, in her statement to the New York Times, said that “we’ve all learned a lot about how while white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, all Jews are targeted by it.”

In response to these and other charges of anti-Semitism by the Women’s March leadership, many local chapters and other organizers have chosen publicly to break ties with the original March. Jewish leaders and organizations are split on whether to remain associated with the Women’s March.

Photo by Josh Howard on Unsplash

Many national organizations have split from the Women’s March as well. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates the Nation of Islam as a hate group and was a previous March partner, will not join the national March, and neither will EMILY’s List and the National Council of Jewish Women. Celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing, who formerly supported and spoke at the March, have announced that they will not participate this year because of leaders’ refusal to denounce Farrakhan adequately.

As for me, I have made the personal decision not to attend my local march, which is affiliated with the larger national march.

On that incredible day in January of 2017, I attended my city’s local march. (I was supposed to attend the March in Washington, D.C. — I had plane reservations and plans to stay with a college friend — but I ended up with bronchitis and had to stay closer to home.) In those early weeks after the 2016 election, it was easy to forget how many millions of us did not vote for Donald Trump and despised everything he stood for. The Women’s March was a declaration of resistance, a reaffirmation of decency and unity. Later that day, as I watched the swells of pink hats across the nation on my television screen, I sighed with relief and thought, There are so many of us. We will be okay. We won’t let the worst happen.

Since then, we have witnessed a shattering of norms and unthinkable attacks on our democracy — its institutions, its values, its leadership. We have seen children separated from their parents at the border for the sake of cruel punishment. We have seen our president weaponize his civic and historical ignorance. We read his cruel taunts on Twitter and hear his incoherent ramblings from our screens.

And we have also witnessed a president who proclaimed that are “very fine people on both sides” of a Charlottesville rally of white nationalists who chanted “Jews will not replace us!” as they marched. We have seen anti-Semitic attacks and harassment increase dramatically during this administration, Jewish cemeteries desecrated, bomb threats to Jewish organizations, and the murder of Jewish Americans at a synagogue.

So as I watched the clip from The View with Tamika Mallory’s resistance to condemning Louis Farrakhan, my first thought was: What if Tamika Mallory was the conservative organizer of a conservative march? How would I react to a conservative leader’s association with a man with views as vile as Louis Farrakhan?

The truth is that I would be outraged. I would be outraged by that conservative leader.

We should expect that all of our protest leaders unequivocally, repeatedly condemn bigotry in all of its forms. We should expect more than silence. We should expect more than occasional complicity.

Women have learned a lot since January 2017. We’ve learned to mobilize, and we’ve learned the power of our numbers and of our relentless activism. I know our leaders and activists will never be perfect. But we don’t need to march with leaders who refuse stand up for all women, all the time and refuse to stand against bigotry in all of its forms. We can do better.

EDITED: The Daily Beast is also reporting the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has dropped itself from the list of sponsors of the Women’s March after the controversy over accounts of anti-Semitism and links to Louis Farrakhan. This list of former sponsors now also includes Amnesty International, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL, and the Center for American Progress.