This is what democracy looks like. The ever popular chant perfectly captures the messy circumstances surrounding current-wave feminism. Since its origins, the Women’s March has found itself mired in unending controversy regarding everything from racism to homophobia and transphobia—now anti-Semitism has joined the list. Looking back at President Trump’s inauguration, the contentious nature of the protest was the very reason it was organized. That is inherent in any demonstration; unpopularity did not determine whether Rosa Parks remained seated or whether Roe v. Wade passed. Hundreds of thousands of women taking to the streets drew attention to the way American culture sweeps blatant sexism and its dangerous counterparts under the rug. While women like Christine Blasey Ford face death threats, sexual violence against women seems to be a prerequisite for men in power. Casual conversations about grabbing women by their genitalia gained President Trump favorability with those who view his unfilitered speech as authentic and relatable. Harvey Weinstein‘s alleged modus operandi of threatening actresses who refused his advances with the destruction of their careers arguably gave him a stronger filmography by bolstering his power over people in the industry. Such phenomena has, in effect, existed since the dawn of time. Despite everyone having a different opinion on the #MeToo movement, forcing this dangerous trend to the forefront of politics was necessary—particularly when the then President-elect of the United States found his spot on the list of accused.
More recently, Linda Sarsour, a leader of the Women’s March, has created intense disdain for the movement with her recent slew of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments. Sarsour and her colleague Tamika Mallory have long been open supporters of Louis Farrakhan who commonly speaks of Jews as “satanic” and “vile termites”. Farrakhan has gained notoreity by pushing anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracies, while holding the opinion that “Hitler was a great man”. Both women have continued to make their support of Farrakhan public, and refused to denounce either him or his beliefs.
But what should activists do with this information? In the aftermath of the October mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, some supporters of the march and its stated focus on inclusivity have struggled with how to categorize white Jews. On one hand, they espouse, all white people are complicit in upholding racism through the privileges they enjoy. Whether this statement is truly universal or not is still widely debated. On the other hand, there is a long history of persecution of and discrimination against Jewish people (the Holocaust is a obviously a prominent example). In the present, they too are targeted by self-proclaimed white supremacists. Progressives have been forced to address the not-so-neat fact that everyone possesses some form of privilege, and likely lacks others. Holding and exercising privilege may not necessarily position someone as the enemy. Again, everyone statistically has some form of privilege that others do not—such as living in a world guaranteed to be accessible for their abled body. Privilege is not an evil word. Privilege is not the absence of any form of hardship or suffering, compassion or empathy. Privilege simply refers to an advantage that a particular group experiences. Still, divisive political rhetoric from politicians and the media serve to reinforce (and capitalize on) an us versus them mentality.
Criticisms of exclusion will continue to pile up as long as democracy remains a tenet of American politics. But that should only serve as a motivator for continued activism. Retiring your protest signs only emboldens the injustices behind that decision. The misguided belief that one somehow cannot stand up against multiple issues—that injustices must be evaluated and ranked, pitted against each other—fails to recognize the intersectionality. To some degree, every act of injustice shares a deep history; every victim can relate to another. The dwindling crowds of the marches are both an indicator of a belief in this concept and its opposite. Those who chose to no longer participate understand that to be feminist is to support other marginalized groups, but they fail to realize that protesting the protest altogether is a dead end.
In recognition of this, a group of nine New York Rabbis endorsed the march following a meeting with Sarsour and Mallory. Moving forward, activists should take a page out of the Tanakh and continue to focus on repairing the world. Despite so much controversy, the Women’s March has succeeded in making women heard; a lot has changed since the movement’s nascence. Rather than giving up on such an important platform, feminists must make it known that mistreatment of any group is inexcusable.