Pitching a big tent is critical to creating a movement that can mobilize for change. I have partnered with people and organizations I have fierce policy disagreements with in order to win big victories. That said, there are lines that can’t be crossed in the name of progress. You can’t pitch a tent with hate groups. Tamika Mallory, as well as her partners Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, have pitched a tent that has room for Louis Farrakhan but not for the Anti-Defamation League. I’d rather stand in the rain.
The Women’s March has left Jewish women to bear the brunt of white supremacy and patriarchy without their partnership. When Jewish women lifted their voices and demanded to be included in the Women’s March Unity Principles, we were ignored. When we were standing outside the JCC frantically searching for our toddlers, they had nothing to say. When Blaze Bernstein was murdered by neo-Nazis, they were silent. Anti-Semitic incidents were up 57 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest jump on record, but Mallory had nothing to say on that subject, either.
Farrakhan runs a hate group. He is transphobic, homophobic, patriarchal, and deeply anti-Semitic. Even when the Women’s March movement issued an apology distancing themselves from Farrakhan, Mallory wrote of her love for the Nation of Islam movement. Mallory’s embrace of Farrakhan has invited hatred into the heart of intersectional feminism.
Mallory and the rest of the Women’s March leadership have been asked repeatedly since 2016 to reconsider their treatment of Jewish women and have failed to rise to the occasion—over and over and over again. They have made it very clear that they believe despite a history of dispossession, forced assimilation, and genocide that has persisted for over 2,000 years, Jewish women do not deserve to be included in intersectional feminist theory. Not only has the Women’s March failed to include Jews in their Unity Principles, Mallory openly refuses to honor the values the March set for itself by accepting patriarchy, transphobia, and homophobia.
I know women of color and black women in particular often face undue criticism and unfair double standards. I know Women’s March leaders, especially Mallory, have faced threats of violence, slander, and constant criticism since rising to prominence. She and I are different, but I also understand facing bigotry and I certainly understand fear. I am a Jewish woman raising a black Jewish child in Trump’s America: I feel fear every day. I also know that feminism has a dark history of ignoring, disempowering, and endangering marginalized communities—a history that intersectionality is supposed to help remedy. By inviting a hate group into a supposedly intersectional movement the Women’s March imperils that important work.
Mallory stood and applauded a man who called Jews satanic. She privileges the damage that the accusation of anti-Semitism does to her career over the diverse community of people she is marginalizing.
In this context Mallory has the chutzpah to argue that Starbucks should be boycotted for partnering with the ADL. The ADL, like all organizations, fails to obtain perfection and there is a time and place for critiquing historic institutions. That said, to opine on a civil rights group while defending your association with a hate group is farcical. The ADL opposes hate and seeks to build bridges, fight extremism, and create a more free and just America. Nation of Islam has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. There is no moral comparison. You can’t credibly criticize a civil rights organization while unapologetically standing with a hate group.
I am an organizer and I know the value of human capital in the fight for a more just America. I have forgiven people for engaging in anti-Semitic rhetoric in my local community. Talking about hate is always better—even when it’s hard, and even when there is learning to do. Admitting that you have engaged in oppression and hatred involves enormous humbling, but it is gratifying to invest in love and turn your back on hate. While I won’t contribute my time or money to the March in its current form, I would still welcome Mallory at my table.
I’d tell her, it’s time to apologize—and do it right this time. I’d tell her to meet with Jews United for Justice for guidance on apologizing and growing in a meaningful way that builds relationships instead of burning them to the ground. I’d ask her to finally include us in the Women’s March Unity Principles, invite new board members and new staff, and sit down with any and every Jew in America who is still willing to talk to you. Not just your friends who pass your “Good Jew” tests. You aren’t welcoming us into your tent if you ask us to keep our mouths shut and stand in silent deference to you.
There are so many Jewish women who want to engage with the Women’s March and build something better. There is so much we could do together if we could really be intersectional—but all of us have to fight our own biases and leave hatred at the door. That starts with you, Mallory, and with your colleagues at the top. It would take work to create spaces where dialogue could happen, but if we did it we could move mountains.
A truly intersectional feminist movement would be such an incredible and powerful place to be. We could facilitate conversations between communities in conflict with each other and be a safe space for female-led dialogue and grassroots peace-building, including the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, just like Parents Circle Families Forum, Haifa Women’s Coalition, and Mubarak Awad’s work with the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence. We could actually talk to each other about our disagreements instead of closing our hearts and refusing to partner on issues that need our attention. We could fight hatred, white supremacy, and oppression in new and innovative ways, from community dialogue to the courts to Congress to the White House. We could learn so much from each other about the hatred and hardships we are facing—and we could roll up our sleeves and fight like hell for each other, and for all of the communities that are under attack in America right now. We could link arms in the fight against gun violence, which threatens all of our children. We could stand for motherhood in a society that is constantly attacking, belittling, impoverishing, and killing mothers—especially black ones.
There is still time. Otherwise the Women’s March movement will slowly bleed to death while we pitch our separate tents. I can’t sit in a tent with hatred and I cannot be quiet.
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Carly Pildis is the Director of Grassroots Organizing for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and an advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter feed is @carlypildis, and her website is www.carlypildis.com.