From Time’s Up, Black Lives Matter and March For Our Lives, this moment, dictated by dramatic political and social changes, is a crucial time for activism and represents a changing attitude to the individual’s role and responsibility when it comes to the ability to shape and change our world.
Personally, I had never given much thought to the concept of activism and advocacy. I associated it with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam Protests of the 1960s, a far-off concept that had no modern relevancy. Like many others, this changed with the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and consequently, with the organisation of the Women’s March in January of the following year.
I was excited by the concept, the joining together of women, deeply upset with the presidential result and worried about its impact on the lives of women. It wasn’t a call to change the election result, it was a quest to highlight the anti-women sentiments that had been expressed and the threats to women’s rights that were becoming progressively more palpable.
When it came to the leaders of the Women’s March, I didn’t know who they were, it didn’t matter to me, I was enthused by the message of the movement and wanted to be a part of the historic occasion. However, this blindness has not remained which has resulted in the raising of questions about whether one can support the message of a movement while not supporting those of its leaders.
The leadership of the Women’s March has become centred around four women, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland. Three of the four have connections with one of the most high-profile anti-Semites, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is unabashed in his hatred of the Jewish people, promoting such exhausted conspiracy theories such as Jews controlling politics and Hollywood, calling Hitler a “very great man” and referring to Jews as “satanic”.
Mallory, Sarsour and Perez have been open supporters of Farrakhan, attending talks given by him, posing openly with him on social media and displaying an extended reluctance to express condemnation of his views and to seek disassociation from him entirely. For an antiracist, intersectional movement, this lack of condemnation can only be considered as complicity in the promotion of such racism.
Such support of a figure that the Anti-Defamation League has referred to as being ‘virtually synonymous with anti-Semitism’, highlights how often, anti-Semitism is relegated to the bottom of the pile when it comes to social justice and progressive movements and that it has become a crucial blindspot in left-wing activism.
My attendance at the Women’s March was an endorsement of the Women’s March, not of its leaders. The movement served its purpose, to mobilise women and it acted as a catalyst for this wave of activism that is so inspiring and energising. A set of figures are not needed to dictate what injustices need to be tackled and what path activism is to take. The movement has become more than these four women and it is possible, and important, that we look beyond them and leave them behind.