Here we are, on the cusp of the third annual Women’s March.
And the movement that began with so much promise in 2017 is suffering from a schism. Conflicts have been fomented by a distrust of its original leadership because several of the women had to be forced to repudiate the anti-Semitic diatribes of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
It’s astounding that the words and presence of a long controversial man have been allowed to undermine one of the most empowering movements for women in recent decades.
A founder of the original movement, Teresa Shook, made this accusation against her co-founders in mid-November in a Facebook post: “In opposition to our Unity Principles, they have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs.”
There are more concerns too.
Questions have also been raised about finances and spending, and some have accused the movement’s leaders of being more about self-aggrandizement than uplifting all women.
Organizing committees in various cities have cancelled events or gone to lengths to distance themselves from the questions surrounding four of the national cofounders. In cities like Chicago, others have stepped in to quickly organize marches for Jan. 19, unwilling to let the day go by without some type of gathering.
I interviewed the Nation of Islam leader back in 1996 when he visited Kansas City. He was then much as he is now: a promoter of the self-empowerment of African-American communities, with a strong track record of how his Nation of Islam has worked toward that end.
But he was and is unrepentantly anti-Semitic, homophobic and divisive in his diatribes. The positive aspects of Farrakhan’s messaging should never be used to shield his glaring hatred of Jewish, transgender and LGBTQ people.
The fact that a few of the leaders of the national Women’s March had to be pressed into admitting that is inexcusable.
But there is another factor equally, if not more, responsible for why this year’s gatherings likely will not generate the outpouring of women in previous years: It’s just not news anymore that the president of the United States is a sexist, racist liar.
For many original participants, the catalyst to march in 2017 was their revulsion to Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent inauguration.
The gatherings of an estimated 470,000 people in Washington, and thousands more in cities across the nation and around the globe, were held the day after his inauguration.
Backlash to Trump was always going to be a momentary motivator. The pushback, the so-called resistance, had to shift to remain relevant.
If a fraction of the women who have gathered in recent years show up, it shouldn’t be seen as indicative of a waning interest in female activism, nor as a failure of this movement.
The discussion among some women in my hometown of Kansas City provides a good example.
Here, some have questioned why a man has led much of the organizing, a local pastor with good intentions but not high name recognition. Randy Fikki has been a minister for less than two years and stepped into the role at his young daughter’s urging, when it appeared that Kansas City might not have a march in 2018.
A diverse group of about two dozen people, mostly women, gathered recently for a weekly planning meeting and found they needed to adjust to their budget’s realities.
A GoFundMe effort to raise a desired $15,000 had stalled at $1,409. The funds were intended to cover the costs of printing banners, buying megaphones, getting a stage set up and sound equipment.
The Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus has been promoting the event via social media for months, so it’s not as if there is outright hostility among prominent women already active in civic and political circles.
The nature of movements, as the word itself implies, is that they shift, often evolving past their origins. Simply marching every year was never going to be a winning strategy, nor was it the original intention.
So, yes, women may not feel as obliged to turn out as coordinated throngs for a wide variety of reasons on January 19.
And that, too, should be viewed as progress.
Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.