I walked away from the Women’s March on Washington two years ago absolutely electrified by the promise of what a movement built around sisterhood and solidarity could accomplish.
Today, sadly, I must walk away from the national Women’s March organization, and specifically its leadership.
While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.
Instead, this weekend, I will join a movement of women around the nation who are participating in local marches that have distanced themselves from those national Women’s March leaders who still ally with bigotry.
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I am not alone. Teresa Shook, who launched the movement with her viral Facebook post, has publicly called for the co-chairs to resign, writing that Bob Bland, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory “have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform” of the march.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, EMILY’s List and the Democratic National Committee I once led are among the groups distancing themselves from the national event. The Washington State Women’s March rebuked the national group, noting its leaders’ failure to “apologize for their anti-Semitic stance.”
Anti-Semitism, hate have no place in activism
Since that first march, I witnessed a disturbing spike in hatred aimed at Jewish homes, schools and synagogues in my own community. And with anti-Semitism and white nationalism apparently on the upswing in America and globally, the associations that Sarsour, Perez and Mallory have had with Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan have been most troubling.
NOI has been deemed a hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mallory’s attendance at NOI’s annual Saviour’s Day event last year was especially alarming.
It was there that Farrakhan said Jews were “the mother and father of apartheid,” and claimed that Jewish people are responsible for “degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out, turning men into women and women into men.”
Farrakhan has a long history of anti-Semitism. He has said that Hitler was a great man, compared Jews to termites, and tweeted about “the Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan.” What is more, he does not hide his bigotry, regularly maligning women and the LGBTQ community.
It should not be difficult to condemn this hate speech and the person who constantly voices it.
Yet, at almost every turn, Mallory has failed to clearly denounce Farrakhan. Instead, she has attended Farrakhan’s speeches and posted her support for him on social media, referring to him as the “GOAT” — or, the Greatest Of All Time. Just this week, she was repeatedly asked on national television to clearly condemn him, and she instead dodged the question, taking issue with the words he chose and the fact that Minister Farrakhan is male, rather than acknowledging the hurtfulness of his rhetoric toward Jews and the LGBTQ community.
Sarsour has also come under fire for criticizing “folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech.” This rhetoric is hurtful and shames the Jewish women who have stood for equality and inclusiveness since before the Women’s March even came into being.
Local marches keep true to the mission
It’s clear that the leadership of the march has yet to cut ties with those who promulgate hate and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Until it does, I cannot stand alongside it.
When I marched alongside hundreds of thousands of sisters in Washington in 2017, it was with a hope that we would never have to go down that road again. We marched to fight oppression wherever it exists. We marched to raise our voices against hate and discrimination. We did not march to help promote it.
I and others continue to embrace the original intent of the Women’s March, to raise a collective voice to support our sisters across our great nation.
However, this year, our efforts will be focused on the women of local chapters, like Florida, who have distanced themselves from a disturbing pattern of hateful speech from their national leaders. They join chapters from all over the country, including Washington state, New Orleans and Cleveland, which have either publicly decried anti-Semitism in the response to these reports, or canceled their march entirely.
Faced with two choices, staying silent while refusing to join the national march, or speaking out, I choose to speak out. Women have been forced to stay silent for too long, and we must demand the same principles from our movement as we do from our society.
We must fight oppression and bigotry in all its forms. Otherwise, what — or who — are we marching for?
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the Democratic representative of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. She is Florida’s first Jewish congresswoman and the former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Follow her on Twitter at @DWStweets.