“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”
– Emma Goldman
The Women’s March is not immune to the same forces that have confronted the political left in the U.S. for decades. The larger women’s movement itself, that sprang from the antiwar movement and civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, carried flaws along with its development that are not new to left political movements in the U.S.
Looking in as an outsider during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I noticed that much of the women’s movement was made up of upper-middle class professionals and well-to-do students who gave short shrift to large segments of women in the U.S. who did not have the advantages of middle-class or upper-middle class upbringing and the professional school degrees and advantages that that background afforded many in the women’s movement, particularly those in leadership roles. That the women’s movement has attempted to address some of these shortcomings in recent years is testimony to the vibrance of that movement, but the fact that most white women without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, the dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, is a an undeniable and valid criticism of the women’s movement’s effectiveness.
I have marched, along with my family, for two consecutive years at the Women’s March in New York City. It felt good being on the streets in solidarity with others, the cause was noble, but during both marches I felt that the marches were accomplishing little besides saying “Hooray for our side.” If the proof is indeed in the pudding, then the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, with echoes of attacks against Anita Hill in the person of Christine Ford, is evidence of how the women’s movement’s power has changed little over the ensuing decades.
But now another issue has reared its ugly head as the second anniversary and third women’s march draws closer in January 2019. “Several people involved in planning the march say that at a November 2016 meeting, Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez ‘asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people’” (Vox, December 21, 2018). Another Women’s March leader, Cassady Fendlay, who was present at the 2016 meeting, stated that the allegations of anti-Semitism are false. Also, one leader of the march has refused to cut ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, a leader in the Nation of Islam, who has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. At a February meeting, at which a Women’s March organizer was present, Minister Farrakhan “espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” Farrakhan has compared Jews to termites: “I’m not an anti-Semite, I’m anti-Termite.” Farrakhan stated, in a 2014 speech, “…the satanic Jews who control everything… “ Some may say that these issues, related above, amount to guilt by association, but the strength and frequency of anti-Semitic remarks by Minister Farrakhan cannot be dismissed.
As a Jew and a member of the political left, I am still reeling from the effects of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 people were killed by an avowed anti-Semite and anti-immigrant madman. It’s a raw wound that has been apparent since Trump and some of his supporters began kowtowing to, and facilitating the growth of far-right neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump’s obscene comment, “but you also had people that were very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, is enough to bring images of the Holocaust to a position at the front and center of most Jews’ attention.
The Minister Louis Farrakhan issue and the Women’s March is reminiscent of an early demonstration on the Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts following the attacks of 2001 and the U.S. mobilization for war. The first speaker to address the crowd of protesters identified herself as Palestinian, a people with whom most Jews in the U.S. feel connected to in terms of decades of persecution. But the speaker’s opening remarks targeted Jews as being responsible for just about every sin that could be imagined on the international stage. The speaker portrayed Jews as some sort of evil cabal and I knew instinctively that this demonstration and rally was not one I felt that I could get up and dance to. I left, feeling that my identity (not to be confused with identity politics) was being hammered away at by the speaker.
With all of the brouhaha associated with this new twist in the women’s movement, an alternate group… March On… is but one example in an array of groups that has sprung up to answer an alleged unacceptable turn in this necessary and vital part of the movement of protest in the U.S. It may be true that if two leftists are gathered in the U.S., they will not be able to agree on either the time of day or the season, or the fact that the sky is generally blue on a sunny day, but it seems fairly obvious that casting one’s lot with those who speak words that support intolerance and create a loss of solidarity on the left are to be avoided.
Anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny are all symptoms of the underbelly of humanity. We need to get the connections between that hatefulness correct on the left.