From accusations of the march being dominated by white women to snubbing Black Lives Matter, the event was marred by several controversies, affecting the turnout.
Is the Women’s March having an identity crisis? People seem tired and weary with numbers falling for the 2020 Women’s March. This year, the fourth annual Women’s March focused on three main topics: climate change, reproductive justice and immigrants’ rights. Although some criticised the organisation for broadening its reach beyond its politically liberal base, much of its criticism revolved around being primarily white despite the march branding itself for creating “a space for women of all backgrounds, of all experiences to come together and fight for the issues that matter to them”.
It’s also notoriously inaccessible and ignored disability activists when they tried to speak up about it— Laura Dorwart, Ph.D. (@laurawritesit) January 19, 2020
The annual Women’s March became famous with its huge rallies, the first and largest one in 2017 drawing almost 1.6 percent of the US population. The march was a response to Trump’s election as president and people protested in record numbers the day after his inauguration. They protested for gender equality, civil rights and other issues that would face challenges under the Trump leadership.
Women marched against the rule of a president who described Mexican immigrants as “rapists”, retweeted false statistics claiming that African Americans are responsible for the majority of murders of white Americans, referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries as "shitholes", signed the Muslim ban impacting the tousands of people’s life around the world, asked Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their countries, relentlessly used anti-immigrant rethoric of “invasion” and called Jewish voters who support Democrats “disloyal”. It was again Trump who told an entertainment reporter in 2005 that “when you’re a star...you can do anything” including grabbing women by the genitals.
This year the march, rejecting President Trump’s agenda, had its last chance to protest before the 2020 presidential election, however the protest in Washington D.C. last Saturday drew much smaller crowds compared to the 2017 Women’s March.
“The march drew just a fraction of the original turnout as the movement has struggled with changes in leadership and questions about inclusivity,” NPR reported.
The numbers fell as some criticised the movement for failing to keep momentum and failing to connect with the right people as leading activists. Women’s March Inc. was under fire for allegations of anti-Semitism in 2018, which resulted in some civil rights groups distancing themselves. Indeed, the New York chapter suffered divisions and two competing marches took place the very same day last year in January.
In September 2019, three co-founders - Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour - stepped down as a part of restructuring for a more diverse board because their terms were up. “The organization [sic] has not cut ties with the three departing board members; their terms have ended,'' a statement by the Women’s March said.
Mallory and Sarsour were repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism and Sarsour, a Palestinian American and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, made a statement saying: "Every member of our movement matters to us—including our incredible Jewish and LGBTQ members. We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused, but we see you, we love you, and we are fighting with you."
Zahra Billoo, a lawyer and Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in San Francisco, was appointed as a replacement, but members of the Jewish community expressed alarm over Billoo being a part of the movement.
“Meanwhile, the Women’s March should really re-examine its new board members, Zahra Billoo, in particular, because no credit can be given when you replace anti-Semites with anti-Semites,” said Republican Jewish Coalition spokesperson Neil Strauss.
The board’s decision to appoint Billoo was also condemned by the right wing and the anti-Trump organisation also voted against Billoo, finding her past online posts incompatible with the values and mission of the organisation.
On September 19, 2019, Billoo took to Twitter and called it "an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists, who have long targeted me, my colleagues, and anyone else who dares speak out in support of Palestinian human rights and the right to self-determination” as she was attacked due to her old tweets condemning Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians. Billoo referred to anti-Semitism as a "growing and dangerous problem" but stood firm stating: “While I may have phrased some of my content differently today, I stand by my words…”
Billoo is still standing firm to this day. “Does not march with Islamophobes and Zionists,” she wrote online. “If we are going to be in community, and you want me to be silent about ‘uncomfortable’ issues, what is that? If you want me to choose between reproductive rights and fighting Islamophobia and apartheid, I will not. I aspire to be in movements where we ask ‘and’ not ‘or.’”
Billoo, who has been associated with the Women's March since its inception, said she would not be participating in the 2020 march, commenting “for the first time since 2017, I will not be anywhere near one” and rather would be going axe throwing.
Billoo said she “loved and cherished, that our incredible sisters Linda, Carmen, Tamika, and Bob built” stating that it “is not the same organization today”. She claimed it had strayed from its original mission of bringing together women from all walks of life.
She wrote: “What I experienced was not just about me, but about some white women and some white aspiring women of color drawing a line in the sand that excludes my communities. They are cowards, wanting to be on the front lines of the resistance so long as it is not scary or difficult.”
NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.