With two months to go until the Women’s March returns to the District for the third time, organizers have plenty to think about — the logistics, the issues, the implications of a historic election that put more than 120 women in office.
Instead, they’re dealing with the fallout of a controversy that just won’t go away.
Regional chapters, allies and some of the movement’s most visible supporters have turned their backs on the national group, saying they won’t rejoin until the four women at the helm denounce and cut ties with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Others, including Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer who launched the Women’s March two years ago with a single Facebook post, went a step further and called for the removal of national co-chairs Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour.
Those who continue to support the Women’s March have begun to worry about what comes next. For some, the question has become: Could the Women’s March unravel before its march on Jan. 19?
Nancy K. Kaufman, chief executive of the National Council of Jewish Women, convened a phone call this week with dozens of Jewish leaders concerned about accusations of anti-Semitism and calls for Women’s March leaders to step down.
Ultimately, the group decided to continue to support the organization — but, Kaufman said, they’re reserving the right to change their mind.
“There’s a deep concern among Jewish leaders of, ‘How do we manage this?’ ” she said. “What does it mean to be clear in our fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and women’s rights while also fighting division in (the Women’s March) movement?”
Others, including several regional leaders, followed Shook’s example and called for the national leaders to resign.
“Teresa gave people permission to come out against them,” said Mercy Morganfield, the former leader of local chapter Women’s March DC. “People were afraid. They didn’t want to be seen as the ones being rude at the tea party.”
Women’s March leaders declined Wednesday to respond to a request for comment, but on Tuesday, Sarsour published a lengthy statement condemning anti-Semitism and advocating for unity among women.
“Tamika and I are women with our own agency. We speak for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are being stripped of our agency when every few months we are asked to condemn the Minister about words that we did not say, nonetheless the words of a man who did not consult us on his words,” Sarsour wrote.
Mallory and Sarsour have condemned anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of hatred but have not renounced Farrakhan himself.
In February, the controversy reignited after Mallory attended the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day event in Chicago. While there, Farrakhan delivered an inflammatory keynote that included statements about “powerful Jews” he considered his enemies.
Mallory, whose presence at the event was chronicled on social media, later wrote that she has attended Saviours’ Day events since her childhood and attributed her participation, in part, to the support she received from the Nation of Islam after her father’s son was killed.
The outrage quieted as Women’s March leaders took up causes like calling for an end to President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families and protesting the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who is accused of sexual assault.
On Oct. 27, an armed man walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people.
Three days later, actress and activist Alyssa Milano, a vocal leader of the #MeToo movement, announced that she would not participate in the 2019 Women’s March if Mallory or Sarsour continued to lead it.
Regional chapters, including the chapter in Denver, have lambasted the national organization. Angie Beem, president of the board for the Women’s March in Spokane, Wash., wrote on Facebook that her group has been calling for Mallory and Sarsour to resign for a year.
“Most of us state chapters are furious with them,” she wrote.
Shook said she was inspired to call for the leaders’ resignation after being approached by women who felt the march was no longer a welcoming space. She said something more than words was needed to “heal the hurt” felt by women involved.
“Unfortunately, those co-chairs have so intertwined themselves with the movement and the message that the community has totally lost faith in the Women’s March because they have lost faith in them,” Shook said. “I hope they see that this is not about me — and this is not about them — this is about what is needed to heal our community.”