The Anti-Feminist Women’s March: Authoritarian Populists Hijack Democracy

A Story of Populism, Intersectionality, and Corruption

The 2017 Women’s March was successful in turnout, but did it achieve any concrete goals? After the march, the “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” campaign was launched, urging individuals to write to their representatives about an issue that was most important to them, from women’s rights to environmental protection to immigration to literally anything. What does this have to do with feminism? Reflecting the lack of focus and weak foundation it was built on, this lazy campaign fizzled out and the entire march might too. The weak foundation of the Women’s Movement made it vulnerable to authoritarian populists who used intersectional scapegoating and populist media outlets to hijack a democratic feminist movement.

The Tablet published a thorough expose that investigated the corruption in the Women’s March, Inc. A lack of a centralized body and structure was intentional. “In our first leadership meetings, we envisioned building the Women’s March as a flat structure with no one single leader, and inclusive of all voices,” Vanessa Wruble recalled. “I was hoping through that, through working together, we could forge real relationships across different races, religions, and cultures.” This structure reflects a core concept of the fourth wave of feminism, intersectionality.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality offers an analytical framework that seeks to identify how overlapping systems of power impact those who are the most socially marginalized. This multivariate approach attempts to explore the nuances and crevices of power dynamics. Historical contexts, religion, race, and class are all examples of dimensions that must be taken into account when conceptualizing oppression of an individual. Intersectionality therefore offers an in-depth examination of the way power dynamics impacts individuals. In order to fully understand the entangled relationships between every factor and dimension, each case must be observed individually. Intersectionality challenged the notion of gender by suggesting that socially constructed norms are just the tip of the iceberg. In Living Gender After Communism (2007), Johnson and Robinson refer to gender as “the recognition that many characteristics and behaviors, often assumed to be a result of biological sex, are political, social, and cultural creations” (p. 2)

What is feminism?

Feminism is the belief in and maintenance of equality where individuals have equal access to education, healthcare, and opportunities regardless of sex or gender. It is a fundamentally democratic and liberal way of thought. Feminism falls under the umbrella of individualism, the belief in the individual over the collective or state, with a specific focus on gender and sex. These are the pillars of liberalism and democracy. Feminism therefore has a built-in capacity for pluralism in ideology and identity.

Black feminists such as Anna Julia Cooper criticized first and second wave feminism for historically excluding black women. The third and fourth-wave sought to rectify this by holding intersectional ideology at its core, in which race, class, and transgender rights became the main focus. The fourth wave is a product of the knowledge revolution in which it is defined by technology. Both movements dismiss any restrictions or control over the way women express themselves. This core value views pornography and hyper-sexuality of women as acceptable, which is in stark contrast to the previous waves that fought against violence promoted in pornography and the objectification of women. The knowledge revolution creates the need to adapt to the overwhelming amount of information and ideas flowing through multiple channels of communication where social media platforms remove social and class barriers, which is reflected in the intersectional approach at attempting to include everything. 

Intersectional Scapegoating

Scapegoating and isolating groups was one of the first tactics used to employ corruption, which was justified by intersectionality. Wruble was one of the four women who met on social media that began organizing a women’s movement. They were put in contact with Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez through Skolnik who runs the non-profit Gathering for Justice that they work at. These three women banded together with Bland and used authoritarian tactics to other and outcast white and Jewish women from leadership positions. Mallory and Perez scolded Wruble, including claims that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people. Their xenophobic and abusive behavior was justified on the basis of being an oppressed group by a designated enemy which is validated by intersectionality and identity politics. This is an authoritarian populist tactic that Hitler also used which he described in Mein Kampf (1925): “The end is not only the end of the freedom of the peoples oppressed by the Jew, but also the end of this parasite upon the nations.”

Authoritarian personalities

Sarsour exhibits authoritarian traits, such as circumventing questions by silencing people based on their identities[1], such as when asked about her attack on Ayaan Ali Hirsi when she spoke out against female genital mutilation. She claimed that Jake Tapper, the liberal news anchor at CNN, is joining the ranks of the alt-right[2] after he called her out for wishing Shakur a happy birthday by calling her a cop-killer fugitive in Cuba. She started a smear campaign and filed a lawsuit against her employee at the Arab American Association of New York when she reported sexual assault[3].

She has been continuously using populist and authoritarian tactics to induce fear in the masses, claiming that there are fascists and white supremacists reigning in the White House. “We have to stay outraged,” she says, “do not criticize me when I say that we as a Muslim community in these United States of America have to be perpetually outraged every single day,” and she goes on to call for jihad and for Muslims not to assimilate[4].

If you’re in a movement and you’re not following a woman of color, you’re in the wrong movement,” said Sarsour[5]. Not only is she physically white as snow, but she has even said, “when I wasn’t wearing a hijab I was just an ordinary white girl.[6]” She is benefiting from the history of Black oppression by claiming to be a woman of color, a highly politicized and socially constructed term that stems from justifying legal racism. This is a populist strategy for attracting Black constituents and guilt-ridden intersectional feminists. More importantly, it’s blatantly racist to claim that someone’s race dictates whether or not they should be included or excluded.

Authoritarian Agendas

Sarsour’s true agenda was revealed soon after the march when she claimed that one cannot be both a Zionist and a feminist. Sarsour also tweeted that “nothing is creepier than Zionism,” the Jewish liberation movement. She also told The Nation magazine in March 2017: “Is there room for people who support the State of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement? That can’t be in feminism.” Feminism is about women’s rights, regardless of nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Tamika Mallory with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan

Mallory and Sarsour have close ties with Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader and notorious misogynist, homophobe, and anti-Semite[7]. They also still refuse to condemn him for his public displays of vulgar hatred[8]. Farrakhan has publicly stated: “The powerful Jews are my enemy,” and “Don’t you forget when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever” and “It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s the wicked Jews, false Jews, that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic.”

Sarsour spoke at the 2015 Million Man March[9] about being outraged, oppressed, and the need for liberation from her enemies as if she was reading directly from ‘Mein Kampf.’ She continues screaming that the same people who justify the massacres of Palestinians are the same ones who are repsonsible for the murder of young Black men and deporting immigrants; that common enemy is white supremacy she says. According to the narrative she is laying out, Jews are white and white people are bad. Like a true authoritarian populist, she uses fear, anger, shame, the status of being oppressed, and a defined enemy to mobilize the masses.

Populist Media Outlets

The media and pop culture also played a crucial role in conferring power and crediting Sarsour, Mallory, Perez, and Bland for the Women’s March by making them the face of the movement. “They don’t have a clue what they’re doing,” Morganfield told Tablet. “They were chosen for optics—for the image they brought to the march.” Media outlets are easily manipulated since superficial populist click-bait is in high demand. Women’s March Inc. also profited from merchandise promoted by celebrities in the emerging activist culture on the left where style and virtue signaling is valued above substance.

Corruption

The signatories to the original not-for-profit Women’s March Inc. were Bob Bland, Breanne Butler, and Evvie Harmon until the four women had the leadership legally changed without the consent of the others. They dissolved the original entity and created a Women’s March Inc. entity with an interim Board to absorb the millions of dollars donated through merchandise and fundraising sites like the GoFundMe-backed CrowdRise.

In March 2017, Women’s March Inc. filed a federal trademark registration for the Women’s March with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. “You do not trademark a movement,” Shook told us. “The Women’s March should belong to all of us. The sister marches don’t get a dime. They’ve been asked to be transparent over and over.” Morganfield called them out stating: “There are no Jewish women on the board. They refused to put any on. Most of the Jewish people resigned and left. They refused to even put anti-Semitism in the unity principles.” Said Morganfield. “There is no LGBTQIA representation on their Board of Directors—this is not an intersectional organization—it’s smoke and mirrors,” said Morganfield.

Evidence suggests that they paid themselves 2 percent of all national funds raised from Women’s March Inc. Revenue at The Gathering for Justice, the organization that acted as the Women’s March’s fiscal sponsor, increased by more than six times between 2016 and 2017, from $167,021 to more than $1.8 million.

The “total revenue” reported on the Women’s March 990 form from 2017 doesn’t account for all of the donations from their crowdfunding donations. Charity Accounts on CrowdRise must be listed in the GuideStar database and recognized as a U.S.-based 501(c)3 nonprofit, but the Women’s March is not a 501(c)3 nonprofit, it’s a 501(c)4, and it was not listed on the Guidestar database as the requirement clearly states. Affiliated 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations need to be governed by separate boards of directors, maintain separate bank accounts, have different names and different letterheads to avoid violating tax laws.

“They get millions of dollars, and who does all the work? The states,” said Morganfield, in an interview. “D.C. was their biggest chapter. We never received one dollar from them,” she told Tablet. “They promised us money. Never gave us a red cent. I’ve asked to see their financials at least 15 times. They won’t even answer emails.”

Violence

Her position of power had an impact, in which a Jewish group was asked to leave the Dyke March rally last summer in Chicago for carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David. Rather than unifying the American people, promoting peace and democracy, she uses othering and scapegoating while appealing to marginalized audiences. According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League[10], anti-Semitic hate crimes in the US surged nearly 60% in 2017, mainly at schools and college campuses[11]. The ADL reported 1,986 cases of harassment, vandalism or physical assaults against Jews and Jewish institutions. Hate crimes in 2017 rose by 17 percent nationally compared with the year before, according to the FBI. “When anti-Semitic rhetoric or dog whistling is allowed in our public square and proliferates on social media without condemnation, especially from our leaders, it gives encouragement to impressionable young people. It is incumbent on all school leaders to call out hate whenever it arises,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the league’s chief executive and national director.

The leadership of the Women’s Movement reinforces the very political structures that feminism seeks to challenge. They have used intersectionality to garner power on college campuses[12]. Intersectionality can be used to unify people and create a pluralistic community rather than a divisive movement where leaders rely on defining an enemy within in order to gain power. Instead, they use intersectionality to justify smear campaigns, the suppression of the freedom of speech, and dehumanizing others, especially Jews[13] and specifically Jews who support their homeland’s right to exist[14].

The rising trend of intersectionality in the feminist movement has empowered demagogues to pursue ulterior motives and agendas while weakening feminist interests. A pluralistic liberal approach would offer an interest-based feminist movement where groups according to interests within the movement come together under the umbrella of supporting women’s interests.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HG9dLxABhC8

[2] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jul/19/linda-sarsour-accuses-jake-tapper-being-alt-right-/

[3] https://nypost.com/2018/03/03/woman-who-accused-womens-march-founder-of-harassment-cover-up-faces-lawsuit/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThJdMXbxChs

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/if-youre-not-following-a-woman-of-color-youre-in_us_5898bf21e4b061551b3e014b

[6] https://youtu.be/Dc8259Ag4x0

[7] https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/28/politics/louis-farrakhan-speech/index.html

[8] https://nypost.com/2018/11/25/linda-sarsour-is-still-refusing-to-condemn-farrakhans-hate/

[9] https://youtu.be/wg9fGa8aEjc

[10] https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/2017-audit-of-anti-semitic-incidents

[11] https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/28/us/antisemitic-incidents-2017-adl-report-trnd/index.html

[12] https://www.weareallusa.org/tn_2-1-18

[13] https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/09/04/isna-convention-uses-shame-fear-to-stir-radical-agenda/

[14] http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/234702

About the Author
Allison Gangi earned her Bachelor’s degree in Politics and Italian from Ithaca College. Shortly after she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia for 27 months. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in International Affairs and Global Justice from City University of New York, Brooklyn College.
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