White Women: We Must Remain United Behind the Women’s March Leaders
Note: I am not part of the Women’s March staff nor am I writing as an official representative of their views.
On December 23, 2018 the New York Times published an article by Farah Stockman, “Women’s March Roiled by Accusations of Anti-Semitism,” detailing concerns of Vanessa Wruble and Evvie Harmon, who helped plan the 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC, and Teresa Shook, a white woman from Hawaii who created the first Facebook page proposing a march.
I am sorry for Ms. Wruble and for all the Jewish women who feel hurt and respect your right to have your feelings 100%. I too am angered and terrified by rising anti-Semitism in our country- the Antidefamation League documented a surge of 60% between 2016 and 2017 in its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States issued in February 2017. Anti-Semites often confuse me for a Jewish woman and I frequently experience hatred online and it’s terrifying.
It is not my role as a non-Jewish woman to tell you how to feel.
And I would like to share with you my experience of the Women’s March leaders, my analysis of who is behind the campaign to fracture the Women’s March, and why I believe it’s imperative that white women remain united behind the Women’s March leadership.
My Experience of the Women’s March Leaders
I attended the Women’s March in DC in 2017, the San Francisco Women’s March in 2018, the Power to the Polls Women’s March Rally in Las Vegas in 2018, and the Women’s March Power to the Polls rally in Miami Florida before the midterm election.
This summer and fall, I was arrested six times in civil disobedience actions organized by the Women’s March to protest family separation and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.
During these actions I got to know Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Bob Bland (Carmen Perez is a recent mother and was not present) and hundreds of women protestors and campaign volunteers.
Never have I felt so supported and encouraged as I have in my conversations with them and with the remarkable group of women united behind their leadership who engaged in civil disobedience this summer and fall.
I witnessed not a single act of anti-Semitism or exclusionary behavior the entire time.
We are women of all ages, races, sexual orientations, faiths (including Judaism), and walks of life. We come from Florida and Ohio and Nevada and North Carolina and Indiana. Some of us are cis and some are not. Some of us have GEDs and some have Ph.Ds. Some of us have disabilities, some of us are immigrants, some of us are veterans, many of us are mothers, some of us are grandmothers. Some of us have been protesting since Vietnam, for some these were our first protests. We spend a lot of time listening and learning from each other.
All of us feel lucky to have Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland as our leaders.
Their love of women and of sisterhood, their analysis, their experience, their ability to inspire and build a coalition, the way they treat us with kindness and respect and the deep respect that social justice leaders have for them is what allowed millions of women all over the globe to unite and march safely in 2017 and 2018 and for hundreds of women femmes and our allies to engage in civil disobedience this summer.
A Harvard Business School case study argues that no matter how multisite nonprofits are organized (ie, one central 501c3, different 501c3s with same name/brand, or any hybrid), they are intensely conflictual. I previously worked for a rapidly growing national non-profit organization and experienced first hand the tensions that arise.
In the case of the Women’s March, women who did not know each other previously planned the largest demonstration in US history, and concurrent marches all throughout the country and the world, between November 9, 2016, and January 21, 2017. That is virtually no time at all!
Watch this video to see for yourself how humble and reflective the Women’s March leaders are. They acknowledge their growth areas and have issued a statement and apology, committed to fighting anti-Semitism and homophobia/transphobia, and have updated the Unity Principles as part of the Women’s Agenda for 2019.
Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland have more than earned our loyalty. They are building the first truly intersectional women’s movement in the history of our country, the movement our country so desperately needs.
Women’s March is a force, and that is exactly why powerful interests seek to splinter us.
My analysis of who is behind the campaign to fracture the Women’s March
Evidence is abundantly clear that the spike in anti-Semitism in our society is emanating not from the Women’s March, but from violent white supremacist men and their white women supporters, aided and abetted by Vladimir Putin and Republicans. Violent white nationalism in on the rise in Europe, the United States, and in Latin America.
This is a dangerous and scary time for people of color and Jewish people, and to a much lesser degree, white women.
White supremacists, aided and abetted by pussygrabber in chief and the Republicans, are antisemitic, misogynistic and violent.
Between October 6 and October 21, 2018:
The US Senate confirmed a right-wing extremist supported by the NRA and religious right to the highest court in our land despite multiple credible allegations of sexual assault with white women cast the deciding votes.
A Washington Post journalist was sawed in pieces.
Fascist gangs publicly beat people in Manhattan.
15,000 children were held in detention camps.
The Administration announced plans to erase trans people.
A man groped a woman on a flight and justified it because “the President of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts.”
A Florida man mailed pipe bombs to 11 public figures who have been critical of 45.
A Kentucky man executed two Black people in a grocery store.
And an avowed anti-Semite who was angry at Trump for not going far enough slaughtered 11 people at a synagogue.
Refuting white nationalism in the 2020 election must be our shared short-term priority.
Vladimir Putin wants nothing more than to fracture the Women’s March because we are the biggest threat to white nationalism.
Now consider the tactics being used here, and how they compare to the tactics Russians used in 2016 to dissuade African Americans from participating in the election:
In 2016 “Messaging to African Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African Americans, including police violence, poverty, and disproportionate levels of incarceration…… These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead. This often happened through the use of repetitive slogans.” Computational Propaganda Research Project
Right now, we see messaging to white women seeking to divert our political energy away from feeling angry at Republicans and towards feeling angry about anti-Semitism, but not the anti-Semitism expressed in Charlottesville, Pittsburg, and the countless other anti-Semitic attacks by white nationalists.
Instead, we are directed to feel angry about the anti-Semitic views expressed by Minister Louis Farrakhan, and allegedly by Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour.
These campaigns push a message that the best way to advance the cause of Jewish women and white non-Jewish women is to boycott the Women’s March and focus on creating alternative marches instead. This is happening through the use of repetitive slogans, such as continuously bringing up Tamika Mallory’s Instagram post calling Minister Farrakhan the GOAT.
Just as messaging in 2016 sought to exploit the fault line between Black people and the Democratic party, messaging now is seeking to exploit the fault line between white women and women of color. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
White women make up far too much of the electorate to be left to chance.
Some white women are shifting left, a key factor in the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives. An estimated 49 percent of white women voted for Democrats in this year’s midterm, up from about 43 percent in 2016. The shift was particularly strong among college-educated white women, 59% of whom voted for Democrats in 2018, up from 47% in 2014.
But in key races, the divide between white women and Black women remained very wide.
“The latest gut punches, courtesy of CNN polling: In the Georgia governor’s race, an estimated 75 percent of white women — more even than white men! — voted for Republican Brian Kemp, who is passionately pro-life, over Stacey Abrams, a staunch protector of women’s reproductive rights, while 97 percent of black women supported her. In Texas, 60 percent of white women cast their ballots for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a supporter of alleged assaulters President Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, over Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is dedicated to improving women’s health care. (Ninety-four percent of black women backed O’Rourke.) The numbers were similar in the Florida governor’s race, where 51 percent of white women voted for Republican Ron DeSantis, who has voted against equal pay and the Violence Against Women Act, instead of Democrat Andrew Gillum, who wanted to protect no-cost birth control in the state. Just in case the pattern was unclear: Way more black women — 82 percent — chose Gillum.”- Michelle Ruiz, “Why Do White Women Keep Voting for the GOP and Against Their Own Interests?” Vogue.com November 8, 2018
It’s not just in the voting booth, in the workplace, at our schools in communities throughout our country, white women have a very difficult time following women of color.
And it has never been more important that we do so.
Why I Believe it’s Imperative that White Women Remain United Behind the Women’s March Leaders
Please read Angela Davis’ book Women Race and Class. She recounts the history of feminism in the US, born out of abolitionism.
Throughout US history, there have been a few white women feminist leaders who were antiracist and 100% committed to racial equity, but the majority of white women feminist leaders have been unable to unite with women of color or follow women of color leaders nor unite with working-class women. This is what has ALWAYS impeded our collective progress.
I am sad, but not surprised to see it happen AGAIN.
ESPECIALLY in a year in which white women have caused tremendous harm to Black people (Barbeque Becky, Permit Patty, Susan Collins and white women Senators voting to confirm Kavanaugh to just skim the surface), organizing a separate march epitomizes the sabotage that women of color expect from white women.
The sabotage women of color warned Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez to expect from white women.
Unfortunately, there are many many white women who don’t know how to follow women of color, because deep down inside, we believe we are superior to them, and they make us feel uncomfortable.
I know because I was raised that way, too!
It’s taken me a long time to excise these beliefs and I am still working on it.
White women frequently proclaim ourselves intersectional feminists and allies while STILL believing that we should be the leaders and set the agenda and women of color should follow us and conform to our notions of who they should be.
The diagram below depicts what happens to far too many women of color who go to work for white-led organizations.
White women: we need to get behind the Women’s March leaders 100%. Not organize a separate march in NYC on the same day as the Women’s March! Not stay home from the Women’s March, or break off!
This is a time for UNITY among all people in the crosshairs of white nationalism, led by women of color.
Professor and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, originator of the concept of intersectionality, spoke at the Women’s March Power to the Polls rally in Las Vegas, NV on January 21, 2018. This is what she said:
“When we take leadership from the margins, things change…… We’ll know we are on the rights path when we are as outraged about sexual abuse and prisons and patrol cars as we are when it happens in Hollywood and universities, when we can say the name of India Kager, Kayla Moore, and Michelle Casseaux in the same breath as Michale Brown, Eric Garner, and Philando Castile. We’ll know victory is at hand when Say her Name and Black Lives Matter and MeToo and all the other campaigns out here don’t have to be demanded. We know we will have won when looking back to this moment, it can be said that this generation faced with growing hatred obscene inequality and human extinction lifted up its forgotten legacies and wove them into a rich tapestry of resistance to take back our future.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw, Women’s March Power to the Polls rally in Las Vegas, NV on January 21, 2018
Women of color aren’t perfect, they are not monolithic, and I don’t agree with everything every single one says.
But OVERALL, women of color are the closest to every single problem facing women in our society, and they are the closest to the solution.
When we white women LISTEN to women of color, RESPECT them, FOLLOW their leadership, VOTE for them, and transfer our power, resources, and networks to THEM we will all win.
White women: we are needed in the Women’s March movement to break the cycle and encourage more white women to join us. We have a lot of work to do.
Our role in this movement is to follow women of color leaders and get our Becky house in order:
It’s on US white women, to reach out to the 47 percent of us who voted for 45 and try to flip them so they don’t vote for him AGAIN in 2020.
It’s on US white women, to engage our neutral inactive sisters and young people who are becoming eligible to vote. In 2016, only 13% of voters were younger than 30. Voters in this age group reported voting for Clinton over Trump by a margin of 58% to 28%.
It’s on US white women, to raise our children antiracist feminist by role modeling what that is.
It’s on US white women, to continuously work on ourselves until we learn how to relate across difference as equals, as Audre Lorde told us since we have no patterns to follow.
White women, we are crucial to the success of this movement!
If white women in our generation break the cycle of being unable to follow women of color, there is NOTHING we can’t do because united, we have the numbers and the resources to make REAL change.
I hope the women who are planning a separate march or planning to stay home will come to see the light. We need you, we need EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.
I pray for the well being of the Women’s March leaders, and of all women, including those who are seeking to fracture the movement.
And I cannot wait for January 19, 2019, to march again with my beloved sisters from all across the country behind our beloved leaders.
I hope to see you there, too.
Karen Fleshman, Esq. is an attorney, activist, single soccer mom, and a nationally recognized expert on racism, feminism, workplace fair practices, police brutality, and politics. In 2014, Karen founded Racy Conversations, a workshop facilitation company, to help people feel more willing and able to communicate honestly with each other about racism and to do so with increased empathy and understanding.
Karen’s passion project is to build interracial sisterhood and raise antiracist children. She is the author of a forthcoming book for white women about racism, blogs for Huffington Post, Moguldom, and Blavity, and is a Medium Top Voice on Racism, Feminism, and Politics. Karen is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the University of Texas at Austin, and New York Law School, and is admitted to practice law in New York.
As she has since 2017, in 2019 Karen will cohost Inclusive Conversations in cities across the United States, events designed to unite women across age, race, sexual orientation, and class, and will speak about interracial sisterhood With Minda Harts and Dr. Avis Jones De Weever, Karen will speak at SXSW 2019 on building interracial sisterhood. For more information, contact her here.