IIn its first record year, the Women's March brought together nearly 4 million people in a simultaneous primary scream against the new president. But two years later, the unit frayed like a well-worn bad hat, with power struggles in the run up to the marches that will take place across the country on Saturday, January 19.
The organizers of the original march in Washington, DC, who now operate as the non-profit organization Women Inc., have applied for a trademark with the name of "Women's March," which angers local organizers who fear that they will have to pay to use it. At the same time, some of the local "sister sisters" are distancing themselves from the national leadership, who have been hit by accusations of anti-Semitism.
The groups that organized marches in 2017 and 2018, but decided not to participate this year, have seen how new organizations enter the vacuum. And at least two cities this year will have two marches of women in mourning: one organized by a national chapter of Women in March, and another by local groups that have hosted the event in previous years.
The result: In the midst of all the excitement about this year's anniversary, there is also confusion, frustration and, in some cases, anger.
"I think it's sad for the movement when we all try to unify and we can not even join together for a march."
– Emiliana Guereca
"I think it's sad for the movement when we all try to unify and we can not even get together for a march," said Emiliana Guereca, organizer of the Women's March in Los Angeles. "At this point, it seems that people say that this is a national organization, but it is not."
It is a surprising change for an event that, in its beginning, was the most popular protest in the history of the United States. the The original march began as an event on Facebook created by attorney Teresa Shook, who suggested a demonstration of numbers in Washington the day after the election of Donald Trump. A similar idea was raised by New York designer Bob Bland, and the two joined, with the addition of activists Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez, to plan what became the March of Women in Washington.
At the same time, hundreds of local activists from Anchorage to Auckland were inspired to organize their own rallies on the same day. Some approached the Washington team for support and inspiration; others planned independently. Although somewhat hasty and dispersed, the result of the efforts was an undeniable fact: almost 470,000 people flooded the National Mall on January 21, 2017, along with millions of people who marched in concert around the world, solidifying the March of Women as a powerful force. In American politics.
In later years, the organizers of the Washington march have moved to expand its reach, organize conferences, create optimized brand material and officially recognize chapters of affiliates across the country. They have also organized demonstrations throughout the year, such as the protest against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who attracted hundreds to the capitol in October.
But the effort has been undermined by allegations that some of the national leaders have made anti-Semitic comments or refused to condemn the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. The San Diego Women's March now states on its website that it "never had a formal relationship with the chapter of March, Inc. of Women," and Marches of Florida issued a statement stating that the national group is " an independent legal entity. " New Orleans organizers scrapped their event entirely, partly because of the controversy.
Other disputes have been carried out hyper-locally. Some regional organizers have faced accusations that they do not include groups that include black women, disabled women and members of the LGBTQ community. In Eureka, California, organizers announced they are handing over control of future marches to color activists because their current leadership is "overwhelmingly white."
In several cities, conflicts raise questions that have not yet been answered: Who is the real owner of the Women's March? And should someone do it?
In the City of Brotherly Love, there are two women's marches to choose from this year.
An independent group called Philly Women Rally has attracted thousands of people to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for women's marches in the past two years. But he has also been shaken by an internal drama, with board members accusing founder Emily Cooper Morse of making racist and transphobic remarks and stealing $ 19,000 from the group's bank account, charges she has rejected.
The board voted to expel Cooper Morse late last year, and shuffled its composition to include a Latina trans woman and two other women of color. But when the group went to plan their third march, the board learned that another group had already obtained a permit for the same day, board member Salima Suswell told The Daily Beast.
"Actually, the more, the better."
– Shawna Knipper
The new applicant was Shawna Knipper, executive director of Women & # 39; March Pennsylvania, which is affiliated with the national organization. Knipper, who does not live in Philadelphia, said she knew that a local group usually organizes a march of women in Philadelphia that day because her chapter has helped women attend to attend in the past.
But Knipper said he felt called to organize his own march this year because of the turmoil of the other group and the desire to highlight the work his chapter does throughout the year. As she said: "When we talk about what the Women's March is doing, there is no other organization that can speak better than we do." (Women's March Inc. said they encourage chapters to collaborate with local activists, but abandon the final decision to organize a march for chapter leaders.)
But why did a state group choose Philadelphia for its march? Knipper, who said he communicated his plans to Cooper Morse before the expulsion, cited the "hundreds and hundreds" of defense groups in the city with which his chapter wanted to participate. And she repeatedly denied that hosting two concurrent rallies would be a factor of division.
"Really," he said, "the more the better."
Both groups insist that there is no animosity. Knipper praised the new Philly Women Rally board as "wonderfully diverse," and Suswell said the organizations have a "great relationship." But there seems to be some confusion in the community in general.
"Why are there two separate places for the March outing?" Wrote a woman on Facebook. "Why can not we join forces and consolidate ourselves?"
"This disagreement is so … exaggerated," added another. "We need to work together or the effectiveness of the" wave "is fruitless!"
The situation is less friendly in New York, where the news of two simultaneous marches has caused headlines such as "The efforts of the march of women in competition in New York City were undermined by internal struggles."
The controversy stems from a disagreement between former Goldman Sachs project manager Katherine Siemionko, who helped organize the two previous marches in New York, and members of the national organization.
According to Siemionko, the New York march began as many did throughout the country: he approached the Washington organizers about his plans and connected with other activists in his area.
But emails show that relations soured even before the 2017 event, as Siemionko faced national leadership over how much control they would have. Then, Siemionko announced that she would start her own non-profit organization, Women's March Alliance, and invited national leaders to discuss the plan. She said they did not respond.
Last year, as it expanded, the national organization recognized its first official chapter of New York City, led by activist and film producer Agunda Okeyo. The chapter began organizing events and in September announced plans for a March Women's Anniversary Rally of 2019.
Enraged, Siemionko informed Women's March Inc. that she had the only permit to march in that city on that date. The two groups finally established a phone call to discuss the collaboration, but Siemionko said it only made matters worse. Linda Sarsour, she said, was "threatening" and demanded a seat on the board of the Women's March Alliance.
The national organization denies that Sarsour was threatening by telephone. In a statement, he said repeated attempts to work with Siemionko failed because "there was no alignment to include representative leaders and to reflect the total population of New York City."
In the end, New York, like Philly, was left with two events on the same day.
Okeyo said he is aware of the turmoil this has caused, but felt he had the mandate to organize the event on the same day as the nearly 40 other chapters brothers.
"There is only one chapter in the march of women [Inc.] in New York, "he said." We are here to say that women have done a great job over the past two years and this is a time of celebration and elevation. It is not a time of conflict … It really should be a moment of positivity. "
Siemionko was upset because the Okeyo group had not made alternative plans.
"It's like, what the hell?", Said Siemionko. "These are clearly women who do not support women's rights, you do not enter someone else's city and you say, 'I do not support you, I'm going to compete against you.'
In Georgia, the local chapter of Women's March Inc. decided, for the second year, not to have a rally, saying they did not want to eclipse the march of Martin Luther King Jr. days later.
So it was a surprise when a Facebook page appeared for an event on January 19, called The Women's March in Atlanta, led by Rep. Lucy McBath. The meeting was the brainchild of Gloria Moore, a local activist who was concerned about the lack of a march last year. This year, she decided to join forces with Siemionko's organization to install one in Atlanta.
More than 1,000 people have marked themselves as interested or attending Facebook, but Moore feels that members of the National Women's Chapter in March, known as the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice (GASJ), are undermining it. At a recent meeting with black leaders at Spelman College, Moore said he stood up to correct a member of the alliance who told the audience there was no planned march in the city.
"They want to appropriate the movement," Moore told The Daily Beast. "It's like going to the copyright office that says:" We want to register the copyright of the March of Women. "How ridiculous! That does not belong to them.
Janel Green, executive director of GASJ, denied having discouraged Moore from holding his own event or intimidating others to attend. Of the new organizers, he said: "I think if that's how they want to express their day, that's what they want to do.
In the small coastal city of Eureka, California, the debate over who controls the march of women is not being waged between national and local leaders, but on identity lines. And it is being fought by two groups of mostly white women.
In December, the organizers of Eureka's last two women's marches decided to postpone their 2019 event, offering the explanation that the leadership committee was "overwhelmingly white."
Beth Ann Wylie, one of the organizers, told The Daily Beast that the leadership, a variety of volunteers gathered through Facebook groups and e-mail threads, realized this year that they lacked women of color, native and members of the network. LGBTQ Community They decided to put things on hold until they could rectify that.
"It did not feel authentic to move forward and maintain a march without these voices being present to tell us what kind of event would help raise awareness of their struggles," Wylie said. "What is our decision to do? It is not our decision to decide what that event will be like."
While the decision was praised by the tribal leaders and the local NAACP chapter, the reaction was swift. The conservative media mocked the decision as an example of political correctness and local women protested on the Eureka Women Facebook page in March.
In a few days, another Facebook page appeared to announce a different Women's March 2019 in Eureka. Around 1,000 people have marked interested or attended, and many have published their enthusiasm for having a second chance to go out.
But the new march has provoked a reaction on its own, with a series of activists calling it "the march of white women." Tia Oros Peters, executive director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, urged a boycott, writing that "there should be no more than a sea of smiling pink hats patting on their backs for an annual walk through Old Town, while they silence, they marginalize and ignore the real problems of justice and colonization underway. "
The replacement march was launched by Kathy Srabian, a retired psychic who said she generally avoids the spotlight. ("My title is" Who? I never knew about her, "he joked in an interview.) Srabian said he decided to stay for a whim in a Costco parking lot, while discussing the situation with another woman on the phone.
"The important thing is that we are occupying space," he said. "We are holding a third annual women's march, so there may be a fourth annual women's march."
Srabian, who is white, said she is concerned that in the entire debate on diversity, the issue of basic rights of women is lost. He pointed to the Trump administration's policy of separating families on the border and said it reminded him of women he knew had been torn from their children during the Holocaust.
"We're headed that way," he said. "They are separating families on the border, that's what's happening, and we're talking about what color to wear a hat, give me a bading break."
Wylie, on behalf of the original organizers of the Eureka march, said that the Srabian event had lost the point. She said that it was not enough to invite different groups to attend the event; They should also participate in the planning.
The original organizers will stay away on Saturday and work on plans to organize their own more inclusive event in March, Wylie said.
"Everyone has the right to go out and march," he said. "It does not mean that the original organizers of the march need to support them."
The headlines around the various power struggles of the Women's March seem to suggest that the movement is destined to become a footnote to history. However, the past shows that these battles for control are not new, nor necessarily fatal, obstacles to the struggle for women's rights.
At the end of the 19th century, the suffragists participated in heated debates about whether to support the right to vote of black Americans. In the 1970s, the women's movement fractured on whether to embrace free love and badgraphy. In 2012, a conference on how the women's movement would work in a digital era was widely ridiculed for ignoring the needs of women of color.
And dissension is not even new in the March of the Woman. After the first event, several local chapters took the name of "Womxn March", to reflect the concerns of trans women. Last year, the debate focused on whether March On, a nonprofit organization started by former Women Inc. co-founder Vanessa Wruble, was trying to steal the thunder of the organization.
Despite the disagreements, more than one million people attended the second anniversary nationally in 2018.
Wruble, reflecting on the concern, suggested that the divisions could help the movement by offering women more ways to get involved.
"People thought it was a group doing everything [in 2017] when in reality there were 600 marches led by more than 600 women who worked together, but who had never had contact and did not know each other, "he said.
"I think it's important that people understand it, so if they do not identify with the principles of a group, it has no effect on the general movement."
Jackie Kucinich contributed reporting