Why I'm Joining the Women's March Today
I’m in Foley Square for the Women’s March this morning, along with my daughter Rosa, my Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, friends at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, and many more.
Like many of you, I’ve read more Op-Eds & articles on this year’s Women’s March than any other protest event I can remember (including two discussion guides & at least one new ritual). You probably don’t want to read any more about it -- and I know for certain you don’t need to read something about the women’s march written by a man. So: please feel entirely free to ignore this post entirely. But given the controversy, I thought I should explain my choice for constituents asking about it.
For starters, I’m thinking back to the Women’s March 2017, and what a truly extraordinary thing it was. Rosa & Meg & I were in Washington DC, and from the time we hit I-95 for the drive down, we knew -- in a way that had been hard to be sure from the minute on that horrible night that we realized Donald Trump was going to be President -- that we still have a fighting chance to win the country we want.
The massive turnout, the irrepressible energy, the most creative signs of any march ever, the overwhelming leadership of women, the willingness to talk honestly about some of the hardest issues of racism & inequality: they signalled that we would not only raise fierce resistance to Trump’s misogyny, bigotry, and democracy-jeopardizing narcissism -- but that we would work to push the country forward. Even amidst fear for those facing terror (we did not know yet that our country would be separating immigrant families, or about Parkland, or Charlottesville, or Pittsburgh, but we could feel them coming), we would respond not only with rage, but also with a spirit of revolutionary joy and celebration.
I felt proud to be there as an ally in my straight, white, cis, male, Jewish skin, and to know that there were lots of us there. But I also felt palpably that the leadership of women, people-of-color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants and others for whom America’s promise of equality has so long been denied might propel us forward to realize our dreams for this country in new ways. It’s worth one minute today to try to recover the feeling we had on that day; I’ve rarely felt anything quite as hopeful or fulfilling.
That was not primarily about Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, or Bob Bland (activists who I know, and have stood with on many occasions). They provided both real & symbolic leadership that mattered, especially in pushing to make the march grapple with hard issues of intersectionality. Still, what was extraordinary was the incredible grassroots uprising, in which millions of people joined, and so many leaders and activists emerged.
That spirit has carried us forward the past two years, in the activism of WHARR and Indivisible and GetOrganizedBK, with leaders like AnaMaria Archila and Emma Gonzalez, and in the remarkable women elected to Congress & State Legislatures this year. Rebecca Traister captures this really well in her piece “Don’t Give Up on the Women’s March,” and I feel grateful that our daughter Rosa and her friends are coming of age in their midst. I’m joining today because I want to honor that uprising, and reconnect myself to it. Because we aren’t done with that; we are barely just getting started.
Now, to be clear: I thought Tamika Mallory’s social media post celebrating Louis Farrakhan, an anti-Semite and homophobe, was horrible. And I was really unhappy with how she and the other Women’s March leaders dealt with it afterward. She was, and they were, far too slow to recognize not only the pain this caused, but also the ways in which Farrakhan’s vile anti-Semitism resonates with Jew-haters on the right & the left, puts Jews at risk, gives cover to other anti-Semites (including white nationalist ones), and serves to divide those who are working for justice of all kinds.
So I understand why some people -- especially but not only Jewish women -- feel burned or unwelcome, and have decided to march with the Women’s March Alliance, or not to march today at all. I respect those choices, and hope we can remain in activism together in the days to come, because we have so much work to do.
Still, I’m at the NYC rally affiliated with the Women’s March leaders. Here’s why:
Because Jewish women whose leadership I trust (both white and Jews-of-color), people who have led the way in standing up to anti-Semitism, have stayed engaged with the Women’s March leaders, in ways that I believe embody the movement we need to build.
On the night of the Pittsburgh shooting this fall, full of grief & sorrow & rage, I joined Jews and allies in both Prospect Park and Union Square. In Prospect Park, I stood with my rabbi, Ellen Lippmann, who remarked at the pain when it is your people who have been killed. In Union Square, I sang & shouted with Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and Bend the Arc, who had organized over a thousand people on a few hours notice. Together with each other, and with allies, we found solidarity to keep organizing in the face of murderous hate for our people.
All of them have been engaged with the Women’s March leaders in recent days, and they are standing with the Women’s March today (for reasons they articulate here, here, here, here, here, and so many more places). And there’s reason to believe those conversations have made a difference, including this recently-posted video of Tamika, the updating of the Unity Principles, the addition of several Jewish movement leaders to the national steering committee, and this Op-Ed in The Forward from Carmen:
I want to be unequivocal in affirming that the organization failed to act rapid enough to condemn the egregious and hateful statements made by a figure who is not associated with the Women’s March in any way. This failure caused deep hurt and pain, especially because our movement is dedicated to centering inclusiveness.
The March has evolved over the past few months as we humbly acknowledged our failings. I want to be clear: our movement is a safe place for Jewish women, our leadership abhors anti-Semitism and homophobia, and these kinds of comments are and will always be unacceptable. Going forward, we are committed to engaging in courageous conversations that break down the barriers to understanding and building deep relationships that lead us towards the “beloved community” of which Dr. King dreamed for all people. We seek to better our movement each and every day to remain deserving of the support of progressives of all backgrounds.
I’m standing with them today as someone with lots of my own internalized racism, misogyny, and bias. As someone who often can’t see when my privileges -- on a daily basis -- blind me to the ways I benefit from injustices in which others suffer. As someone who needed help understanding why it’s important to identify his gender pronouns, so everyone in the room can feel included. As someone who regularly needs to be pushed, cajoled, educated, held accountable -- and who prefers when that is done by allies. As someone grateful for those who trouble the waters, and who knows that in troubled waters, it can be harder to keep your head above water.
I’ve got more personal reasons, too. When anti-Semitic vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis where relatives of mine are buried, one of the very first texts I received was from Linda Sarsour, who sprung into action, and quickly helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to restore the cemetery (for which she has been scurrilously and falsely attacked, despite reporting showing that the money went exactly where it was intended). Today, again, I stand with Linda.
And FWIW, the Women’s March leaders have been there time & again for my friend Ady Barkan too, providing support and comfort for him, getting arrested with him, showing him love & solidarity when he has needed it most).
Whatever you choose to do today, I hope you’ll use it as an opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of the Women’s March 2017 and the extraordinary possibilities of its rage and hope, to remember how terribly far we have to go to deliver a world of genuine equality for & with our daughters (all of whom deserve it), to think about how we build organizations and relationships that model the principles of that more equal world, and to recommit to activism in the coming days that will help us get there.