Stosh Cotler is chief executive of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action.
For two years, Americans have joined together to resist the racist agenda of President Trump and his administration, with women leading the charge. The first seminal moment for this wave of activism was the millions of people who took part in the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration to demonstrate our rejection of his alarming vision for our country.
Unfortunately, recent accusations of anti-Semitism among the leadership of the Women’s March are threatening to damage that momentum. These conversations have caused tremendous anguish and confusion in parts of the Jewish community, making some of my fellow Jewish women who align with the vision of the Women’s March uncomfortable in joining this year’s March on Jan. 19.
I write this with the deepest hope that those in my Jewish family will reconsider this decision. This march may not feel good this year, but this march, and our participation in it, is critical to our collective safety and the continuing survival of our democracy.
As important as it is to acknowledge these genuine anxieties, it’s equally important to recognize that many Jewish women are still proudly participating in the march. My organization, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, is an official partner of the march and sits on the Women’s Agenda committee for one simple reason: Only as a united, unbreakable movement can we achieve the change we need. We must build solidarity within our communities, even when that work requires difficult and painful conversations, because the challenges and threats we face demand nothing less.
To understand this moment is to recognize how rising authoritarianism fueled by a growing white-nationalist movement threatens our communities and democracy. When elected leaders believe, as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) does, that society cannot be restored “with somebody else’s babies,” or that there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, as Trump said, we are witnessing the white-nationalist worldview seep into every aspect of civic life.
It’s going to take much more than one congressional resolution to rid our government of the white-nationalist agenda. From building a xenophobic border wall to voter suppression to an attempt to ban Muslim immigrants from entering our country, this agenda reinforces the notion that “others” don’t belong here. This not only endangers our American ideals but also threatens lives when its violent proponents act on those ideas.
I am inspired by the coalition of brave, bold Jewish women of color, whose voices have all too often been ignored in the conversation around the Women’s March. These leaders, who experience the brunt of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, have come together in recent days to make crucial contributions to this dialogue, including reinforcing the essential point that white nationalism represents the most significant threat to the Jewish community.
That is why we’re marching this year. We must not get distracted or become divided in the face of this existential danger. We don’t have to agree on all issues, but we must protect one another from the largest threat coming for all of us. The Women’s March, as an intersectional movement, has played an essential role in building the people-powered response to these frightening times, recently resulting in the most diverse Democratic House in history.
To be clear, there can be no progressive, intersectional movement that includes anti-Semitism of any kind. The public commitments of the Women’s March to fighting anti-Semitism are heartening, as are its decisions to explicitly include Jewish women in the organization’s unity principles and to add three Jewish women — including two Jewish women of color — to the march’s steering committee.
The march’s leaders have also recently acknowledged the need for continued growth and dialogue to ensure that Jewish women feel comfortable within this movement. The effort it takes to build inclusive spaces is enormous and challenging, and I have directly seen the ways in which the march has both privately and publicly grappled with these issues.
There is still much work to do to root out anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination from progressive spaces. But we can achieve this only through engagement, dialogue and resisting the urge to separate ourselves in moments of pain. We must commit ourselves to building an inclusive democracy that recognizes the unresolved pain and legacy of past injustices. Now — as we watch our loved ones be deported, shot by police, banned from entry and massacred at places of worship — is the time to collectively resist the forces that would tear us apart from within.
On Jan. 19, we will march as women and as Jews to show our commitment to dismantle systems of oppression and build a more equitable, just society in which all of us can live, love and thrive. On that day, the forces of white nationalism will face another reckoning.