Linda Sarsour’s Inclusivity Problem
Editor's Note: Since this article was written, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has severed its formal ties with the March. Below details the events that have led to this decision.
On 21 January 2017, the morning following President Trump’s inauguration, the streets of cities across the globe were lined with all kinds of individuals sprouting pink hats and signs such as “respect existence or expect resistance” and “my uterus is private property.” While the feeling of solidarity filled the air at these marches and it seemed as if all were united for the common good, the co-chair of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, has undermined this notion and the movement’s dedication to inclusivity, tearing the organization apart from the inside, out.
Although the Women’s March’s Unity Principles claim that the movement brings together “people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations, disabilities and backgrounds,” Sarsour has deliberately excluded certain groups from March activities and expressed anti-semitic sentiments on various occasions.
Originally, New Wave Feminists, a group that describes itself as "badass, pro-life, feminists," were included among the sponsors of the 2017 March. When the public got wind of this, Twitter strongly expressed its hatred of this group’s sponsorship. Sarsour then decided on behalf of the organization to remove this group from its list of sponsors. In a statement written under Sarsour’s supervision, the movement declared that it is “pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one […] We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share [this] view.” Similarly, the pro-life organization Students for Life of America applied to be a sponsor, but their application was ignored, despite their large membership and lucrative status as a 501(c)(3).
Despite the march’s mission statement that Sarsour herself helped to write, she deliberately excluded these groups and individuals who hold views that are non-traditional to feminism, saying prior to the march that “[i]f you want to come to the march you are coming with the understanding that you respect a woman’s right to choose.”
An arguably more dramatic violation of the March’s mission is Sarsour’s anti-semitic sentiments and demonstrations.
The first and most obvious of these is her refusal to condemn Louis Farrakhan, the present leader of the Nation of Islam. The leader of this religious and political movement’s anti-semitic comments frequently appear on Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Top 10 Antisemitic Slurs of the Year List, including Farrakhan’s personal belief that Jews were responsible for the attacks of September 11. The Women’s March’s association with NOI’s leader began on Saviour’s Day, NOI’s annual celebration of its founder and founding. The March’s 2019 co-president, Tamika Mallory, was in attendance this past February, as revealed by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Despite Mallory’s claims that Farrakhan, who she proudly calls “Minister,” has been a positive force in her life after a personal loss, the public, especially Jewish women supporters of the March, called on the March’s leadership to condemn him. In a blog post, Sarsour stated that while he has uttered some questionable things, the organization will not denounce him because he had no relation to the Tree of Life violence. She claimed that the public was unjustly pinning the blame on him instead of “white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration.” However, the public was calling for his condemnation not because of his alleged involvement in the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy, but as a response to his statements such as “Hitler was a great man.”
Equally problematic, Farrakhan strongly opposes a woman’s right to choose and is a purveyor of the classical household, where the woman puts her husband and children before her career and goals. So, a question arises: why did Sarsour, who has made it her life’s work to destroy these ideals, exclude and condemn groups that believe this but not condemn him? It could be that she turns a blind eye to his stance on these issues because she aligns too strongly with his aggressive agenda, which has deserted her thousands of Jewish supporters. She is not quiet about this either, as she has declared on various occasions that women who support Israel cannot call themselves feminists.
She has betrayed Jewish supporters in various ways, the most notable of which is her Tree of Life fundraiser. In an effort to show solidarity with those affected by the violence, Sarsour raised $160,000 for the repair of Jewish cemeteries in the Pittsburgh area. However, only $10,000 went to the synagogue, with the rest being donated to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
Furthermore, Sarsour has repeatedly voiced her support for the BDS policy. This policy has the goal of liberating Palestinian land allegedly colonized by Israel through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions on the Israeli economy. BDS appeals to those who believe that Palestine has lost land unjustly because it exerts extreme pressure on Israel’s economy in an effort to force the nation to return the land. The tenability of the movement’s strategy aside, Sarsour’s approval of BDS further deserts the organization’s Jewish supporters.
Similarly, Sarsour has condemned the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish nonprofit dedicated to “fighting antisemitism and hate.” She believes that it is a "purveyor of Islamophobia" for reasons she did not fully explain at the Islamic Society of North America convention this past September. The ADL focuses on compiling and analyzing reports of antisemitism and hate as well as educating the public on relevant issues. This organization is well respected among the Jewish community, and Sarsour’s condemnation of it further alienates Jewish individuals among the March’s supporters.
The March’s other leaders and supporters have taken notice of Sarsour’s problem with inclusivity and deviation from the organization’s Unity Principles. The founder of the original 2017 March, Theresa Shook, first condemned Sarsour after her refusal to denounce Farrakhan, saying that she has “allowed racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform” and has violated the March’s “original vision and intent.” Agreeing with Shook, actress and activist within the #MeToo movement Alyssa Milano has voiced her disapproval of Sarsour’s actions, expressing that she is “disappointed” in her leadership in the March.
This national-level disapproval and confusion has trickled down to local chapters. One example of this is the dissolution of the Washington state chapter. The president of this chapter, Angie Beem, cited Sarsour’s anti-semitic demonstrations as motivation for the chapter’s dissolution, writing in a Facebook post that “[c]ontinuing to be a part of the Women’s March with the blatant bigotry they display would be breaking a promise. We can’t betray our Jewish community by remaining a part of this organization.” Likewise, Cleveland’s chapter has denounced the March’s leadership, and the New Orleans chapter has canceled its march due to lack of local support stemming from dissatisfaction with the national leadership. Twitter and supporters of the national organization are currently questioning if the D.C. March will still be on in the face of this drama.
Linda Sarsour has a problem with the March’s original vision and continues to act as co-chair with a personal agenda. She is muddying the idea of feminism and entangling it with her own beliefs, creating the notion that feminists can only have certain backgrounds and a certain place on the political spectrum. This comes in direct contrast with the March’s Unity Principles and has led to disarray on the national, state, and local levels. If Sarsour has a different idea of feminism, perhaps she should resign from this organization and pursue her agenda elsewhere.