The 2019 Women's March
Through the Eyes of a Feminist Jew
Sophia K., '19, (left) and Caroline N., '19, (right) at the 2019 Los Angeles Women's March
By Sophia K.
February 26, 2019
Surrounded by the chant “From Palestine to Mexico, bigoted walls have got to go,” I, for the first time in three years, felt unwelcome at the 2019 Los Angeles Women’s March. As someone who has grown up in a culturally Jewish household, I left the march questioning my place in the progressive movement. Equating the bigotry of the White House with that of the Israeli State came as a shock. Did my cultural background make me inherently intolerant? While my personal response would be no—I do not support Israel’s abusive treatment of Palestinians—I did not trust the crowd surrounding me to maintain that distinction. Their chant, coupled with the anti-Semitic connections of the Women’s March organization, made me feel unsafe and rather alone.
The past year has been marked by a rise in expressed anti-Semitism. Between the Pittsburgh shooting, the graffitiing of swastikas on synagogue walls, and the amplification of anti-Semitic slurs online, it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel safe as a Jew in modern America. As a previous supporter of the Women’s March organization, hearing about their connection to Louis Farrakhan was particularly devastating for me. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam organization, is known for espousing deeply anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and ideas; he once said, “Hitler was a great man”.
Despite this hateful sentiment, the Women’s March leaders have not cut ties with Farrakhan. Tamika Mallory, Women’s March co-chair, attended a Nation of Islam event in February, 2018, at which Farrakhan delivered an inflammatory keynote that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric. While Women’s March leaders have condemned anti-Semitism and other acts of bigotry, they have not renounced Farrakhan himself and have added their own anti-Semitic words to the mix; in 2016, Mallory and her co-chair, Carmen Perez, “asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people,” according to several people involved with march planning.
Despite Women’s March’s connection to Louis Farrakhan, I decided to attend the march on January 19, asserting that while I had disavowed the organization, their mission was one still close to my heart. I believed that I could support women without supporting anti-Semitism, that I would feel emboldened by my community, both as a woman and as a Jew, despite the Women’s March’s actions. Furthermore, after a year of anti-Semitic barriers, I wanted to feel empowered by marching for my rights.
I was wrong. While the the majority of the march’s members were lovely, and I did ultimately enjoy participating with my friends, I also walked away feeling icky. I do not know if it was the anti-Israel chant, my background knowledge of the Women’s March organization’s connection to anti-Semitism, or the continued distrust due to the rise of expressed anti-Semitism (I have not emotionally recovered from the Pittsburgh shooting), but as I sat on my couch talking to my parents about the march, I got choked up recalling my discomfort.
Whether it is due to internet trolls, politicians unwilling to condemn neo-Nazis, or a group of middle schoolers who contorted their bodies to shape a swastika (yes, that really happened), we live in a time where the Jewish culture and faith faces daily invalidation. As the number of Jewish safe spaces decrease, I would hope that a march promoting inclusion and progress would have felt welcoming to its Jewish members.
Ultimately, my experience may be unique—perspective is a fluid and ever-changing amalgam of personal truths and external realities—and I would hope to never represent the reactions of an entire group of people. Nevertheless, something needs to change. Exclusion within a movement that aims to engender voices from all experiential and cultural backgrounds, even in singular cases, is not acceptable.
As I look toward the future, I hope to see two things. Firstly, I hope to see pro-women organizations increase their focus on true intersectionality; it is one thing to proffer intersectional ideals externally and another to root your movement in the acceptance of all. Organizations that people look to for progressive guidance, including Women’s March, need to be more affirming, more loving, more inclusive. This does not just pertain to Jewish women, but toward trans women, women with varying political views, Muslim women who want to wear hijabs, burqas, or niqabs, and beyond.
Secondly, even with this year’s experience in mind, I hope those who felt ostracized by the Women’s March will return to the protest in the upcoming years. No matter your affiliation or doctrine, I believe immense power can be gained by marching for what you believe in surrounded by people who accept you and your identity. Next year, I will be back, maybe under a different organizational emblem, but marching nevertheless. Each step forward is a revolution that we must undertake for all womankind.