The Annual Women's March Is Happening This Saturday. Why Is It Controversial?

On its third anniversary, the march faces serious controversy—and probably a much lower turnout than in previous years.
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Demonstrators gather on The Ellipse during the Women's March on Washington on January 21st, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Demonstrators gather on The Ellipse during the Women's March on Washington on January 21st, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

The national Women's March and many independent women's marches will be held across the country on Saturday, January 19th, 2019. But on its third anniversary, the march faces serious controversy—and, likely, a much lower turnout than in previous years.

At the first-ever Women's March on Washington three years ago, the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, nearly half a million people swarmed the nation's capital to stand up for the rights of women and marginalized groups. The event spawned from a post in Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group for Hillary Clinton supporters, and quickly evolved into a worldwide intersectional feminist movement with millions of supporters.

Now, controversial ties between leaders of the Women's March and Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the African-American political and religious movement the Nation of Islam, have created serious rifts within the movement.

To summarize: Women's March Co-Chair Tamika Mallory attended the Nation of Islam's Saviour Day in February of 2018. At this event, Farrakhan made several anti-Semitic statements. The Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit organization that fights anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, reported Mallory's presence at the event. Critics accused Mallory and other leaders of the Women's March for endorsing Farrakhan's statements, or at least failing to condemn them. The founder of the Women's March called for all four co-chairs to resign. They didn't, and drama ensued.

According to the Daily Beast, fewer than half of the Women's March's 550 partners from 2018 are returning this year. Some notable absences are the Democratic National Committee, EMILY's List, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which identifies the Nation of Islam as a hate group. Only 6,300 have marked themselves as "Going" to this year's Women's March on Washington on Facebook.

Mallory, a strong believer in Kingian non-violence, has stood firm in her refusal to condemn Farrakhan. In an interview with the Breakfast Club, she said that she has never even condemned the men who killed the father of her son, and she would never denounce the prisoners she works with. She would rather fight systems of oppression than individual people, she said.

Mallory also emphasized that she does not agree with Farrakhan's statements, she believes anti-Semitism is a problem, and she thinks it's imperative for Jews and black people to find ways to work together.

"Whatever I have to endure, the bottom line for me is that the work that I was very particular about us getting done was that there would not be a new wave of feminism to happen in this country where women of color were not in the center of [it]," Mallory told the Breakfast Club. "And no matter what I have to take, the abuse, the misunderstanding, the mischaracterization, and the lies ... I will take that if it means ensuring that my people have a seat at the table."

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