A Women’s March group is canceling its January rally in Humboldt County, Calif., over concerns that its participants would be “overwhelmingly white.”
The decision comes amid division and tension in the broader Women’s March movement, which has unified millions of women and men in protest in the past two years.
Organizers of the 2019 Eureka Women’s March, originally scheduled for Jan. 19, said in a statement Friday that the decision came after numerous conversations with leading local activists and supporters of the march.
“Up to this point, the participants have been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community,” the Facebook statement read. “Instead of pushing forward with crucial voices absent, the organizing team will take time for more outreach.”
The Eureka group, which does not appear to be an official California chapter of the Women’s March, said it was “exploring holding an event in March to celebrate International Women’s Day." It also encouraged local supporters to attend a separate celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 21.
“Our goal is that planning will continue and we will be successful in creating an event that will build power and community engagement through connection between women that seek to improve the lives of all in our community,” the statement read.
Census Bureau data from July shows that Humboldt County is about 74 percent non-Hispanic white.
In a Monday news release, the organizers of the Eureka Women’s March acknowledged that their leadership team is currently majority-white, and said the decision was made to “ensure that the people most impacted by systems of oppression have an opportunity to participate in planning.”
“We failed to have the type of collaboration needed to be inclusive of some of the most underrepresented voices in our community, namely, women of color and people who are gender non-conforming,” the statement said.
Our intention with this march is to affect real social change by raising the voices of all women within our community. We recognize the majority of our current leadership team is white, and planning for this event has been centered around our experiences. In recognizing our failure to put enough effort into being more inclusive, we are attempting to make things right by taking this time to create a more balanced leadership team. Our goal moving forward is to ensure the voices of women of color are heard and centered when we come together for the furtherance of the rights and protection of women.
Throughout history, women of color have been proven over and over again to be some of the most vulnerable populations. From the suffering of enslaved Black women in early gynecological experiments, to the current epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across the nation and beyond. Having their voices go unheard can be a matter of life and death, and it is imperative that a safe community is created for everyone.
Eureka Women's March organizers
While many of the Facebook group’s members applauded the organizers' efforts to diversify the rally, others expressed dissatisfaction with the decision.
“Local Organizers have let themselves be duped, What kind of crowd do they expect when you have 77.86% of the population being White?” group member Terri Selfridge commented on the post that announced the cancellation of the march. “Organizers PLEASE RECONSIDER!!!”
This is not the first time the Women’s March movement has faced questions about its racial makeup and inclusiveness. Excitement in the months leading up to the inaugural march in 2017 was damped by divisive discussions about race — particularly involving minority women and how issues important to them sometimes differed from those of their white counterparts.
In recent months, the Women’s March has tried to quell controversy surrounding its leadership. Some regional chapters have distanced themselves from the national group and its leaders, who have been called to step down over ties with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and accusations of anti-Semitism.
In a November Facebook post, Women’s March founder Teresa Shook called for the resignations of national co-chairs Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour, adding that they have “steered the Movement away from its true course.”
Mallory, in particular, was criticized after she attended the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours' Day event in Chicago this year, at which Farrakhan made statements about “powerful Jews” who he considered his enemies.
“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,” Shook wrote. " I call for the current Co-Chairs to step down and to let others lead who can restore faith in the Movement and its original intent.”
The Women’s March will return to Washington and other cities on Jan. 19.
Marissa Lang contributed to this report.