Annual Women’s March Faces Controversy and Cold

The third annual Women’s March was held on Saturday, January 19, becoming tradition after 2017 when half a million women and allies marched on Washington in response to Donald Trump’s inauguration, protesting the sexist, racist, and misogynistic attitudes that he promoted.
This year’s protestors faced controversy and poor weather conditions, amid the government shutdown. March organizers were accused of anti-Semitic attitudes, and there were fundamental ideological differences as to who gets to own and define the March. Snow and freezing rain were in the forecast, and the National Park Service was not plowing the roads due to the government shutdown, so the original route had to be changed.

Thousands showed up to march in DC, rather than the hundreds of thousands that were expected. Lower numbers were also observed in New York, Los Angeles, and other cities. Organizers had actually debated the effectiveness of holding another march, even before the controversy was raised, knowing that they could never meet the overwhelming turnout of the first year. Considering this, it is difficult to estimate the extent to which the weather and the controversy impacted the turnout.
However, parallel marches were held in both New York and Philadelphia, indicating an ideological split, although some protestors simply chose a particular march or rally based on convenience of location. Several supporters and progressive organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, withdrew their support. Many actively stayed home in protest.

Interestingly, success rates can be a demotivator. According to Jo Reger, professor of sociology at Oakland University in Michigan, said that, “Marches or movements can lose some momentum when people see some of their issues being addressed…With the recent midterm elections, some may feel like the country is going in a different direction after the Trump election and that may lower the numbers participating.”

Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer from Hawaii, is one of the founders of the March. She accused four main leaders of the march of anti-Semitism. In a Facebook post, she said they had “steered the Movement away from its true course” and were not doing enough to separate from groups prejudiced against Jews and LGBTQ people, calling for the leaders to step down. Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian-American with a history of vocally criticizing Israeli policy, and Tamika Mallory has associations with Louis Farrakhan, Chicago-based Nation of Islam leader. Bob Bland and Carmen Perez were also included in the accusations.

Mallory attended a Nation of Islam event last winter where Farrakhan praised her, and in the same speech said, “The powerful Jews are my enemy.” While Mallory condemned the remark, she maintained her association with Farrakhan, and has also publicly praised him. Farrakhan’s group has been classified as an anti-Semitic hate group.

The four leaders have denied the charge. Sarsour expressed regret that they were not “faster and clearer in helping people understand our values.”

Even so, the March saw enthusiasm and emotion to the same level as past years. A sea of pink “pussy hats”, which were popular at the first march, was again observed. Protestor Rachel Stucky told the New York Times: “I came two years ago. It’s definitely smaller, but the spirit is very much alive…The experience I had two years ago was indescribable. I wanted to feel that way again.”

There were calls for unity between women of all backgrounds. Sadiqa Reynolds, president of a Louisville Urban League, said there is no room for racism or exclusion: “I represent black women, who can take no comfort in silence.” March leaders promoted their newly released political agenda, celebrated the record number of women who have been elected to Congress, and highlighted the importance of an intersectional movement led by women of colour.

Some marched to protest the border wall or the travel ban on those from majority-Muslim countries, some marched to stand up for reproductive rights, some marched to reject the rise of the far right, and some marched to call for an end to inequality, the gender pay gap, and violence against women. One key point is that this march is about more than Trump.

They all marched for women’s rights.

Unfortunately, the marches did not attract many high-profile national figures. In attendance in Iowa was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who recently announced that she is running for president in 2020. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at the Women’s March Alliance rally in New York, and Representative Ayanna Pressley spoke in Boston.

Parallel marches were also held across the US, Canada, and other countries. In Toronto, hundreds gathered in downtown despite the cold and snow, in solidarity with the Washington march. They were also protesting the provincial government, saying that women do not want to return to the days when they had fewer rights. Organizer Bianca Spence said, “The theme of our march is: We will not go back.”
In Winnipeg, marchers highlighted the importance of inclusivity and raised awareness about violence against women. They wore red scarves to represent the issue of violence against indigenous women and girls, which was an idea suggested by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Despite the negativity and division surrounding this event, it also symbolized success. The protestors celebrate the success which followed or was engendered by the original March, such as flipping the House to the Democrats and electing an unprecedented number of women to Congress.

The original March gave rise to success, and this one was a celebration of that success.

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