The Women’s March has officially cut ties with three of their leading board members following months of anti-Semitism claims, allegations of financial mismanagement and willful ignorance of sexual harassment claims, as well as credible reports of internal conflicts between their grassroots activists and their dubious overseers over hateful conduct, leaving one of 2016’s most impactful progressive movements riddled with scandal.
In a confusing public statement to The Washington Post, it was revealed that co-chairs Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, and the notorious Linda Sarsour were forced to step down from the leadership board on July 15th, which remained undisclosed to the public despite being the faces of the organizations with recognized titles and photos on their official website a three full months before this week’s announcement.
No explanation for the delay was given, simply stating: “A diverse cast of 16 new board members that includes three Jewish women, a transgender woman, a former legislator, two religious leaders and a member of the Oglala tribe of the Lakota nation will inherit an organization recovering from a failed attempt to trademark the Women’s March name and fractured relationships with local activist groups and the Jewish community.”
The report identifies this “former legislator” as being Lucy Flores, Nevada’s former Democratic Assemblywoman who recently accused former Vice President Joe Biden of inappropriate touching back in March. According to the full list of board members, Carmen Perez is the only original co-chair who will remain on the board despite demands to step-down from their own activist staff. As we reported back in November, a boycott campaign was launched by the Women’s March original founder Teresa Shook to calling on key leadership figures to resign over their “hateful, racist rhetoric” against the Jewish people.
“Bland, Mallory, Sarsour, and Perez have steered the Movement away from its true course,” Shook wrote at the time on Facebook. “I have waited, hoping they would right the ship. But they have not. 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. Therefore, I call for the current Co-Chairs to step down and to let others lead who can restore faith in the Movement and its original intent.”
This link was based on their continued support for Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the political-religious group The Nation of Islam (NOI), who is notorious and praised for expressing blatant hatred against Jewish, LGBTQ and other minority figures being considered by progressive movements. In 2018, we showed video evidence of Farrakhan branding the Jewish people his “sworn enemies,” spreading neo-Nazi conspiracy theories accusing Jews of trying to create a “new world order” that “serves Satan,” blaming Jewish people for somehow perpetuating the slave trade, condemning support for LGBT rights in Israel for “feminizing men” into sinners, as well a decades-old comment praising Nazi dictator and known Jewish genocider Adolf Hitler as being a “very great man”.
In no uncertain terms, Farrakhan is an anti-Semite. In fact, the man found the label so unsuitable that he self-branded himself as “anti-termite”, preaching: “These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is seeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength! It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s the wicked Jews, false Jews, that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic! These satanic Jews run the media! Run the government! Run the world! And they are my enemy!”
Considering their notorious reputation for anti-Semitism, whether based on the good faith citations above or bad faith smears over misconstrued political views on Palestinian conflict, a basic disassociation with Farkahan was long overdue. Even a tepid pushback or simple silence on his bigotry would have given the appearance of adhering to progressive values, even if false and cowardly in nature. Mallory and Sarsour, however, couldn’t even give the lip service of progressivism, sticking to their guns not just through ignoring Farrakhan and his hateful views, but actively praising and defending such blatant bigotry while making the media rounds.
“If what you’re reading all day long, morning and night, in the Jewish media is that Linda Sarsour and Minister Farrakhan are the existential threats to the Jewish community,” Sarsour scolded at the time, accused of failing to pay donation funds to a Jewish organisation raised in their name, “something really bad is gonna happen and we gonna miss the mark on it.” It’s unclear whether Sarsour was actively inciting violence or just playing controversy hawk with her statement, but it should go without saying this tired trope of some puppet master Jewish media being smear-merchants in their condemnation of obvious hatred indicates her solidarity in hate.
After Farrakhan went on his tirade against this “wicked Jew” media, Mallory was later recognized on stage for being a pro-black activist, devolving into a rant of him calling out Jews for the death of Jesus Christ. Once this resulted in bipartisan criticism calling on activists to condemn this “unapologetic bigotry,” Mallory doubled down on her views posting: “Farrakhan is the greatest of all time (“GOAT”) and that “if your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader! Study the Bible and u will find the similarities. Ostracizing, ridicule and rejection is a painful part of the process…but faith is the substance of things!”
When these accusations were called into question by her own movement, Sarsour played the gas-lighting reactionary in trying to accuse Shook and fellow progressive activist Alyssa Milano of bigotry for condemning bigotry: “I don’t think these people have our best interests at heart to make us better people or to disrupt misconceptions or anti-Semitism because trashing a strong black woman and holding her accountable for the words of a man is not the way to bring people together,” Sarsour published on Facebook at the time. “What work are we willing to do and are we willing to be open to the true idea that members of the NOI are not all anti-Semites? Are we cool with broad brushing a whole group?”
Given the accusations were specifically made not against the NOI but Farrakhan himself, notorious for this broad-brushing of Jews as being his eternal enemies unworthy of any individuality, it’s easy to see where Sarsour and company were “cool with” this behavior compared to other groups. Nevertheless, this scandal left the Women’s March in a state of both internal strife and PR free-fall, stating: “We are imperfect,” thanking Shook for her service despite a backhanded smear of “attempting in this moment to take advantage of our growing pains to try and fracture our network.” Months later, it appears this fracturing succeeded, though behind closed doors to avoid media accountability until now.
“There’s an opportunity here for a group to rise out of the ashes of divisiveness and continue on with the mission that was the Women’s March, and, honestly, that would be wonderful,” wrote Dana R. Fisher, a sociology professor studying political protests at the University of Maryland, according to the Post. “There were so many things that were odd decisions, and decisions that made it unclear whether they actually cared about building toward a blue wave and building on the energy and enthusiasm that was built in 2017. If this new board can’t turn the ship around and create an organization that can play well with others, they’ll be back in the same position as they were before.”
I argue this optimism should be shared among progressive moving forward. In heading the 2020 election, a critical moment in time where experts like Fisher warn will focus on narratives of bigotry, movements like the Women’s March deserve a better class of cultural critics than could ever be offered by the likes of Sarsour, Mallory and their careless apologists. Whatever their opinions on Palestine or intersectional orthodoxy, the optics behind them are so toxic by their own doing that changing face and cleaning the slate will lend credibility to distinctions against the Trump administration. “Most of us are new to this,” concluded Ginna Green, leader of pro-Jewish group Bend the Arc. “We don’t have any relationship with the state chapters. I think we’re open to making sure we’re building the right movement for everyone.”