It doesn’t appear the Girl Scouts has ever been scrutinized for its participation. But, as President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration approaches on Friday, the organization has come under fire for its (quadrennial, expected) decision to have 75 Girl Scouts march in the parade.
“The news that the Girl Scouts are sending a contingent to participate in Donald Trump’s inauguration filled me with real rage,” former Girl Scout Jean Hannah Edelstein wrote in the Guardian, adding, “Yes, it’s a tradition: they’ve marched at inauguration for decades. But does tradition justify collaboration with an administration that promises to oppress the young women it’s supposed to serve?”
In Jezebel, Megan Reynolds wrote, “It’s upsetting that the Girl Scouts would willingly participate in an event that supports a man who enjoys the unique distinction of being sued for defamation by a woman who claims he allegedly sexually assaulted her while also waiting to assume the highest office in the country in a matter of days.”
“Attending this inauguration, as if everything is normal, sends a dangerous and damaging message to young Girl Scouts about what sort of behavior is acceptable,” wrote Elizabeth Strassner in Bustle.
Even some leaders within the Girl Scouts have expressed displeasure with the decision.
“Trump does not mirror the Girl Scout values we try to instill in our Scouts,” Brooklyn-based Scout leader Nancy Gannon told NBC News. “He does not respect girls or women, either, I am outraged at this decision.”
“As a lifelong Girl Scout and the co-leader of a troop, I’m extremely unhappy about this,” tweeted one. “It’s true that the Girl Scouts always participate in Inauguration (individuals by choice, of course), but this year should be the exception.”
Finally, many high-profile Twitter users have decried the group’s participation Friday.
Others on Twitter cheekily promised to make their own cookies, rather than buy the popular ones sold by the Girl Scouts.
Amid all the criticisms were a few defenses. Some argued that it should be up to individuals whom they support, while others encouraged critics to allow the marchers to enjoy the day.
The Girl Scouts of the USA responded to this criticism through various venues with the same message: The organization is non-political, non-partisan and believes in empowering its members to make their own choices.
Girl Scouts of the USA supports girls of every ideal, belief, opinion, and political ideology, because EVERY girl has a home in Girl Scouts. Our fundamental and foundational value is to provide girls the resources they need to take the lead. That means providing girls with the courage, confidence, and character to lift up their voices, champion their views, and be advocates for the issues and ideas important to them.
In the comment thread on this statement, the organization added that its members can participate in the Women’s March on Saturday if they would like.
This debate around inaugural participation may be unprecedented, but it appears to be par for the course this year.
Talladega College — the oldest historic black college in Alabama, “founded in 1867, by the descendants of the slaves who helped to build its first building” — is another organization that has been attacked for its decision to march in the parade.
According to The Washington Post, one critic, named Seinya SamForay, called the decision a “slap in the face to other black universities.”
“After how black people were treated at Trump’s rallies, you’re going to go and shuck and jive down Pennsylvania Avenue? For what?” said SamForay.
“We were a bit horrified to hear of the invitation,” 1974 Talladega alumna Shirley Ferrill of Fairfield, Ala., told the AP. “I don’t want my alma mater to give the appearance of supporting him. Ignore, decline or whatever, but please don’t send our band out in our name to do that.”
In an op-ed defending the decision on CNN.com, Talladega alumnus William R. Harvey wrote, “It is an honor to participate in the inauguration of any president of the United States. Talladega and its band will be celebrating the peaceful transition of power, a hallmark of America’s democracy.”
Talladega President Billy C. Hawkins didn’t waver from his decision, though. Still, the college didn’t have enough money to take the trip, until he appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss the controversy around his decision.
“I’ve had a lot of pressure on me. A lot of folks have come at me in a very, very negative manner. I’ve been personally attacked. They’ve threatened to oust the president at Talladega College,” Hawkins said on the show. “This is a great opportunity for our students, and I’ve said that from the outset that it’s about the students. It’s about them having an opportunity to participate on this national stage.”
Following this appearance, the band received more than $600,000 in donated support on its GoFundMe page, allowing them to march.
“I don’t think we would’ve ever thought we were going to be on a platform this big,” 21-year-old Dylan Brown, a snare drummer from Opelousas, La., told CNN. “But with the grace of God, that’s how stuff happens.”
As the band left for Washington, Hawkins told local Alabama media, “Let me make this real clear, I have never wavered on my decision to take this marching band to take part in witnessing the transition of power in this country because these African American students are citizens of the United States of America.”
Brett Meteyer, a fourth-grade teacher in Williamston, Mich., is refusing to let his students watch the inauguration speech on television during class, though he will allow them to watch the swearing-in.
In an email to parents obtained by the Detroit Free Press, Meteyer wrote:
Because I am concerned about my students and your children being exposed to language and behavior that is not in concert with the most conservative social and family values, I have decided to show the inauguration of Donald Trump this Friday, but we will not view Mr. Trump’s inauguration speech.
Radio host Steve Gruber took issue with the email, telling the Free Press, “He has an opportunity to demonstrate that even when you lose, you come together for peaceful transfer of power. The message to 10-year-olds in his class is that the president is a bad man, and that’s not acceptable.”
Politicians themselves, of course, are caught in the crossfire. Most inaugurations wouldn’t produce headlines such as this one in the Recorder: “Mass. reps, senators plan to attend inauguration.” That’s not generally considered “news.”
But this year, about 60 House Democrats have promised to boycott Friday’s historic events, and some who haven’t joined this protest have felt the need to defend their decision.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), for example said in a statement to the Recorder, “Congressman Neal greatly respects the institution of the presidency and the peaceful and orderly transition of power. As a result, he will be attending the inaugural ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol Building this Friday. He has been present for the execution of the swearing-in ceremonies of every president, both Democrat and Republican, since he was elected to Congress.”
Meanwhile Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a statement, “I’ve attended every presidential inauguration since I was elected to Congress. On January 20th I will be attending the inauguration. On January 21st, I will join Americans from Massachusetts and across the country at the Women’s March in Washington to stand up for the values we believe in and the protection of the rights and dignity of all Americans.”
The day after the inauguration, thousands will descend upon the District for the Women’s March on Washington, which The Post’s Luz Lazo wrote “could draw larger crowds than Inauguration Day itself.”
An earlier version of this post referred to the Girl Scouts of the USA as “Girl Scouts of America.”