For the third year in a row, hundreds of thousands of women across the country will turn out Saturday for their local Women’s March, ready to let the nation’s power brokers know the “resistance” is strong. But this time the event has been roiled by controversy after the national organization’s leadership struggled to deal with accusations of anti-Semitism and mismanagement, leaving many marchers wondering if it’s even worth turning up.
Two executives at the national Women’s March have been facing months of calls that they step down over their affiliation with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam who has a long history of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Other Women’s March chapters, which have limited affiliation with the national body, have faced their own issues in distancing themselves from such claims and expect to hold their events as planned.
The main event of the Women’s March once again will be in Washington, D.C. But many expect all the marches to be smaller than in previous years. Past events have built on nationwide anger over the election of President Donald Trump or enthusiasm sparked by the Me Too movement and upcoming midterm elections. There is no election this year, however, and Democrats recently reclaimed the U.S. House with a record number of women.
The biggest struggle has been the national group’s refusal to disavow Farrakhan. Two of the group’s leaders, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, have posed with him on Instagram. In one post, Mallory called Farrakhan a GOAT, an acronym for “greatest of all time.”
When news of the coziness with Farrakhan, who has called Jews “termites,” first spread last year, the two women issued renewed calls of inclusivity and said the movement was in no way anti-Semitic. Women’s March national organizer Linda Sarsour said “every member of our movement matters” and issued an apology for any harm caused.
But Mallory once again refused to distance herself from Farrakhan just this week, saying in an appearance on “The View” that she stood by her “greatest of all time” designation “because of what he’s done in black communities.”
Teresa Shook, who founded the Women’s March, accused current leaders of steering the movement “away from its true course.”
“In opposition to our Unity Principles, they have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs,” Shook wrote on Facebook in November.
Amid the controversy, the national Women’s March has suffered some public relations setbacks. Several major sponsors have pulled their support, including EMILY’s List and the Southern Poverty Law Center. And earlier this week, the Democratic National Committee also appeared to pull its sponsorship after the group’s name disappeared from a list of backers.
Some major celebrities, eager to jump on board with past events, have also said they would not participate this year.
Local chapters have moved to distance themselves from the main organization. The Women’s March Los Angeles posted a statement on its website clarifying the difference between itself and the national chapter.
“As an independent organization, WMLA will do everything in our power to demonstrate and promote intersectionality and inclusivity as we continue to work towards the vision of shared humanity and equality for all,” the group said, noting it does not promote any “form of hatred.”
In New York and Philadelphia, there will be competing marches Saturday. Other chapters have canceled their local events, including the Chicago branch, citing the high cost.
And women around the country have raised concern about their participation in an event that may have strayed from its roots. Jewish leaders in New York have remained conflicted about their role in the city’s marches. The Jewish Community Relations Council has denounced the event, while a group of nine rabbis said it would support it after meeting privately this week with Mallory and Sarsour.
The marches will go on, however. And on Saturday, the national Women’s March group is expected to release a federal policy platform dubbed “The Women’s Agenda” that will include a call to action for Congress.
“Once we have this platform, we intend to organize around it, to mobilize around it and . . . we will consider it to be marching orders from our movement,” Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the chief operating officer of Women’s March Inc., told The Washington Post last month. “And we will bring about swift political consequences to those who oppose us.”
It remains to be seen if any of those consequences are felt by the group’s leadership itself.