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The Women’s March Must Listen to Jewish Women NOW

If the march leadership doesn’t take action now, the march itself will become a footnote as other women take the reins of American feminism for themselves

Carly Pildis
November 20, 2018
Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images
New York State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino speaks to the crowd during the 2018 Women's March in New York City on Jan. 20, 2018.Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images
Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images
New York State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino speaks to the crowd during the 2018 Women's March in New York City on Jan. 20, 2018.Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

The calls for justice are growing louder. The drumbeat for change has continued growing louder every day. Jewish women have been fierce forces for change for over a century in the American social justice movement and we will not stand silent as anti-Semitism and bigotry are allowed to poison the movement. We will not back down, we will not be shamed into silence, we will not go away. The time has come—the Women’s March leadership must heed our cry for change.

Teresa Shook, the founder of the Women’s March, who gave us the original, historic vision of a march on Washington, D.C. the day after President Trump’s inauguration, has called for the march’s co-directors to step down. In her statement, Shook aligned herself with Sister Marches, the grassroots movements that organize local marches, and accused the main march’s co-directors—Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland and Carmen Perez—of violating the group’s Unity Principles by allowing anti-semitism, anti-LGBTQIA sentiments, and hateful rhetoric to take root within the national platform.

Shook found an ally in Mercy Morganfield, the former President of the DC Women’s March. Mercy Morganfield levied a series of disturbing allegations at co-directors in a viral Facebook post. She claimed that not only had co-directors failed to uphold the Unity Principles, but they had misused funds and refused requests to share financial records. Morganfield paints a picture of a lavish lifestyle with five-star hotels and glam squads that pampered the high profile leadership while starving local organizers of the resources necessary to build and sustain a grassroots movement. She depicts a Women’s March that is deeply hierarchical and privileges national leadership over accountability to local chapters of the group and members of its board.

This is not a sustainable or empowering model for progressive organizing.

The most troubling claim to emerge is that Women’s March co-directors employed the Nation of Islam as a security detail. This is a jaw-dropping allegation. If true, it means the Women’s March has not only promoted, but also excused, and defended their association with a hate group, they have actually used Women’s March funds to PAY a hate group.

The Women’s March has over 100 partners, including incredible progressive leaders for justice like Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Emily’s List, NRDC, NARAL, and the ACLU. Women’s March leaders must take action immediately to address these allegations and clarify what funds, if any, went to to the Nation of Islam and where those funds originated.

Beyond anti-Semitism, this is critical information for those of us who stand with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the LGBTQ movement. Liberal organizations, and those of us who support them and give to them deserve to know if the money we gave ended up in Louis Farrakhan’s pocket. The accusations from Mercy Morganfield must be addressed by leadership if there is to be any hope of saving the march in its current form.

Hatred is poison in the fight for a more equal and just America for all. No hatred is acceptable. Calls for Jewish women to “de-center ourselves” or “show up anyway” are ultimately misguided even if they are rooted in good intentions. In order to continue building a strong movement for justice both within the Women’s March and beyond it, we must adhere to anti-oppression practice and say no hatred is acceptable.

Wherever any hatred is deemed acceptable, such as anti-Semitism, other hatreds will grow. Hate is corrosive to movement building and must be addressed boldly and head on. We cannot fight Trumpism by allowing some hate some of the time. We must act out our own vision of equity and love while always striving to be better. We must not attack those who show us our faults but thank them, for true allies push us to be better and make us into better organizers and activists who build stronger, more effective movements for change.

There may still time for the march to be remembered as the moment American women rose up for change in the face of Trumpism. For that to happen, march leadership must stop making excuses for anti-Semitism and bigotry; they must listen to Jewish women and partner with us to build something stronger, fiercer, more sustainable and welcoming. This conflict could someday be a footnote, a moment when the march learned and grew more powerful. But if the leadership does not take action now, the march itself will become a footnote as other women take the reins of American feminism for themselves.

The Women’s March put out a statement yesterday on Facebook that gave me hope for reform and evolution. They wrote:

“We are imperfect. We don’t know everything and we have caused harm. At times we have responded with hurt. But we are committed to learning. We will continue to work through the good and the bad, the impact and the harm—of building an intersectional movement that our daughters, and our daughters’ daughters can be proud of.”

Women’s March leaders, if you read this: I can work with you if this is your starting point. I kept my baby daughter home with me, but I still dream of bringing her to a march. I dream of telling her how we came together to grow and create a movement that welcomed her. She is the one who pushes me to be better, to build something more. She is the one who inspires me to demand better from you, because she needs you to be better. She needs you to welcome her as a little Jewish girl and stop allowing hatred of her Jewishness to flourish within your movement. She needs you to stop partnering with people who say that interracial marriage should be prohibited and that families like ours are a threat to black America. You talked about causing harm and being imperfect. You have caused harm to me, to my daughter, to my family, by welcoming this hate into the movement for our gender equality and for justice.

You do not own this feminist movement. Nor do I. We are merely imperfect people who have been lucky enough to gain a platform. We are the stewards of a movement our grandmothers and matriarchs built, and the guardians of our daughters’ wildest dreams of freedom. We must hold ourselves accountable and push ourselves. I know it’s hard to hear. I know it hurts to be called out. If you roll up your sleeves and work with us, if you listen to Jewish women, if you commit to learning and changing, we can change this country. First, however, you must change yourselves. We want to talk to you. We want to help you grow and change and create a better movement. We are waiting. Give us a call. Give me a call—I’ll bring a badass sisterhood that is ready to work with you. The time is NOW. We will not wait forever. We will not wait for a fourth march. Instead of waiting we will bring that change to you.

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