The Heartbreak of the 2019 Women’s March

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This year’s Women’s March, set to happen on Saturday in cities across the country, has become extraordinarily messy. In 2017, the marches that took place in Washington and nationwide — the largest protests in American history — were radiant symbols of hope and resistance at a bleak, terrifying historical juncture. Two years later, the Women’s March organization has become a depressing study in how left-wing movements so often implode in the digital age.

Women’s Wave 2019 T-Shirt

Women's Wave 2019 T-Shirt

Serious allegations of anti-Semitism have dogged some of the Women’s March’s leaders for over a year, but they’ve lately reached a crisis point. In December, Tablet Magazine published a 10,000-word articleabout anti-Jewish bigotry (as well as alleged financial mismanagement) among the Women’s March’s leadership. Many Jewish women have publicly agonized about joining this year’s demonstration.

Leaders of Women’s March Inc. — as the nonprofit organization is officially called — tried to make amends. It added three Jewish women to its steering committee. Two of the four national co-chairwomen of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, met with a group of 13 rabbis, after which nine of them encouraged Jews to join this year’s demonstration. A third co-chairwoman, Carmen Perez, wrote a repentant column for the Jewish publication The Forward titled, “Jewish Women Should Join Us at the Women’s March, Despite Our Mistakes.”

But on Monday, this apology tour hit a snag when Mallory appeared on the daytime talk show “The View” and refused, as she’s refused in the past, to denounce the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom she once called “the GOAT,” or Greatest of All Time. Last February, Mallory attended a Farrakhan rally where he railed against “satanic” Jews who control the F.B.I. and various foreign countries, and who use their subversive power to promote homosexuality. During his speech, he gave a shout-out to Mallory and the Women’s March, and afterward, she posted positively about the event on social media. On “The View,” rather than disavowing Farrakhan, Mallory said only, “I don’t agree with many of Minister Farrakhan’s statements.”

Following that interview, the Democratic National Committee, which had been listed as a partner of the 2019 march, appeared to pull out, the latest sign that the Women’s March has made itself toxic in center-left circles. Several groups that have sponsored the march in the past, including Naral and the Southern Poverty Law Center, are also gone from its public list of backers. Local marches around the country have emphasized their independence from the national Women’s March organization. New York City will have two competing rallies, a tangible symbol of feminist divisions.

The Women’s March ultimately faced a problem endemic to protest movements that organize spontaneously on the internet, going back to Occupy Wall Street. As Zeynep Tufekci argued in her 2017 book “Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest,” mass protest once required deep, sustained organizing, with all the compromise and human connection that entailed. The process of putting a major demonstration together would itself allow strong leaders to come to the fore. Digital organizing makes much of that work obsolete. As a result, people are often left trying to create a movement after a high-profile action, rather than before it, without clear common goals or leaders who have broadly accepted legitimacy. SOURCE