SALT LAKE CITY — Since the first round of rallies in January 2017, the Women's March has grown into a powerful political movement, inspiring women to vote, run for office and advocate for societal change.
And yet, ahead of its third year of events, which will take place Saturday, the organization may be better known for scandal than success. Its leaders face accusations of anti-Semitism and broader intolerance, and they're struggling with a loss of funding and rise of competing marches.
"Allegations of bigotry against leaders of Women's March, Inc., the national group formed by organizers of the 2017 march, threaten to overshadow the work of grassroots activists," CNN reported this week.
The Democratic National Committee is no longer partnering with the event in Washington, D.C. Chicago organizers decided to cancel this year's march due to lack of funding and volunteers. And in New York City, potential participants must choose between two separate events.
Today's struggles originated more than two years ago, when a group of women gathered in a New York food court to brainstorm what the Women's March could be, according to Tablet, an online Jewish magazine. Participants clashed over whether America's Jewish community has done enough to support black people or acknowledged their privileged status in the U.S., but they agreed to work together to organize rallies across the country.
The Women's March's first year of events surpassed expectations, bringing around 1 percent of the U.S. population into the streets, Vox reported. Soon after, the initial group of organizers split up, partly because of racial and religious tensions, including ongoing disagreements stemming from how some leaders approached the Jewish community.
Some of the women "trademarked the name 'Women's March' and formed the group Women's March, Inc.," Vox reported. Others "split off and formed … March On, which aimed to focus on winning elections in red states."
Over the last two years, Women's March, Inc., struggled to maintain unity among a diverse network of participants. Leaders faced criticism for excluding women who oppose abortion rights and for apparent anti-Semitism, or at least standing by people widely viewed to be anti-Semitic, such as Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
In February 2018, co-chair Tamika Mallory sparked an outcry when she attended a Nation of Islam event and posted about it on social media. Farrakhan is "known for hate speech aimed at the Jewish community" and said "the powerful Jews are my enemy" at the event Mallory attended, CNN reported.
After the event, the Women's March organization issued a statement distancing itself from Farrakhan's remarks and asking supporters to be patient in the midst of growing paints.
"Building this world will take a long time and will require patience and empathy for each other," the statement explained.
However, some people's patience ran out last month, when Tablet and then The New York Times published investigations into ongoing conflict between the Women's March and the Jewish community. Some women's rights activists have expressed frustration with how march leaders responded to past missteps and some even called for current organizers to step down.
"In opposition to our Unity Principles, (leaders) have allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become part of the platform," wrote Teresa Shook, who is credited with first proposing a march for women, on Facebook in November 2018.
Others are more depressed than angry, worried that Women's March supporters are allowing outside forces to tear them apart.
"There's a larger issue at stake and that's the policy coming out of D.C.," said Kathy Wray Coleman, one of the organizers of Women's March Cleveland to CNN. "That was the premise of the march in the first place. We have to place our eye on the prize."
The Women's March was an important development after the election of President Donald Trump, allowing those who rejected his political agenda and hurtful rhetoric to come together, heal and forge a path forward. In 2017, participants told the Deseret News that the Women's March was empowering and exciting.
"The diversity of opinions expressed was unbelievable. The whole feeling was 'We're all in this together,'" said Jody England Hansen of Salt Lake City to the Deseret News at the time.
This year, there will still be events affiliated with the Women's March, Inc., in Washington, D.C., New York, Salt Lake City and dozens of other cities. The organization plans to use the rallies to encourage political activism around issues like universal health care and hate crime prevention.12 comments on this story
In 2019 and beyond, the Women's March needs to be willing to have tough conversations and do better, learning from past successes and past failures, said Jody Rabhan, director of government relations and advocacy for the National Council of Jewish Women, to CNN.
"To move our collective agenda forward, we need to be in communication and relationship with one another — no matter how complex it may be. This leads to stronger partnerships and outcomes. What unites us is far greater than what divides us," she said.