This year’s Women’s March, the third gathering of its kind since President Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House, garnered less political star power and institutional support than previous iterations, due mostly to the controversy surrounding co-founders Linda Sarsour’s pro-Palestine comments and Tamika Mallory’s association with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, a polarizing figure among progressives.
Such circumstances, however, didn’t deter local Black female support for Mallory and the tenets around which the Women’s March had originally been organized. On Saturday morning, they counted among the tens of thousands who converged on Freedom Plaza in Northwest in a show of solidarity with Mallory and the intersectional feminist manifesto known as “The Women’s Agenda.”
“I had been around Tamika Mallory during the Congressional Black Caucus,” said political consultant and 2019 Women’s March participant Sirraya Gant. “Then Cora Masters Barry had a book signing. I liked how the aunties of politics put their arms around [Mallory].”
On Saturday morning, Gant walked through the streets of downtown D.C. alongside women who held signs and wore shirts in support of women’s rights. Surrounded by friends, family and colleagues, she trekked along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest with the goal of ensuring that Black women in political spaces assert their power without fear of backlash from other parties.
“Strong Black women in the movement and politics are misunderstood and that’s the biggest issue,” said Gant, who was campaign manager for Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White during his election bid. “We go through disrespect while in leadership roles. We solve that issue by continuing to be strong and have a voice in all arenas of life.”
The show of strong, unabashed femininity at this year’s Women’s March, known as the #WomensWave, personified the unity between national organizers and women on the front lines of local efforts to secure protections for Black women, and other oppressed groups.
The Women’s Agenda, a more than 70-page document posted on the Women’s March website, emphasizes a focus on ending violence against women and femmes, reproductive rights and justice, economic justice and workers’ rights, and environmental justice, among other goals that that organizers said they hope to take beyond the 2020 presidential election.
On the eve of the third annual gathering, Women’s March representatives released a letter affirming their commitment to amplifying voices from Black Lives Matter DC and local grassroots projects, donating resources to community-led groups, and caring for the land.
A debrief within two weeks of Jan. 19 march had also been scheduled to determine next steps in strengthening this relationship. Requests for comment from Black Lives Matter DC core organizer April Goggans about these goals were not returned.
To a certain degree, sister marches in New York, Philadelphia, and other parts of the country last weekend didn’t rise above schisms that, in a way, overshadowed more than 100 electoral victories in the last year’s midterms that brought women of various racial and ethnic backgrounds to statewide and national political office.
In November, Teresa Shook, Women’s March co-founder, called for Mallory’s resignation, alleging that she, Sarsour, Bob Bland and Carmen Perez, all co-chairs, steered the movement away from its “true course.” Since it had been revealed last year that Mallory attended the Nation of Islam’s annual Savior’s Day event in Detroit, where Farrakhan made what some considered disparaging comments about Jewish people, women within the movement, particularly Jewish women, have called for Mallory to resign.
Other entities, including the National Democratic Committee, withdrew support for this year’s activities. Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), two female 2020 presidential candidates, steered clear of this year’s official event in the nation’s capital, the former opting to confer with activists in Iowa.
Mallory, who credits women in the Nation of Islam for helping her in the aftermath of her child’s father’s 2001 murder, has often expressed verbal support for the Black nationalist organization and Farrakhan, a man she once called “the Greatest of All Time” on social media.
In recent weeks, Mallory, in response to the mounting pressure to disavow Farrakhan, doubled down on her previous comments while explaining how Jewish people, though they face oppression, can benefit from White supremacy. She did so during appearances on ABC’s “The View” and “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover” on PBS.
On Saturday, with Sarsour and Perez by her side, Mallory set the record straight about where her loyalty lies, acknowledging women of various ethnic and religious backgrounds during her remarks to marchers in Freedom Plaza.
“I see you and hear your pain, whether you’re a sex worker of 800,000 of the furloughed workers,” Mallory said. “To my Black sisters, I feel you deep down in my bones and my soul. I know many of you heard a battle cry; you didn’t know if I was OK. Many of you called, texted, and tweeted. No matter what they say, what they write, I will not back down. I will not break. I am who I am for over 20 years. I love all people and no one will define me. Only I will do that.”
The 2019 Women’s March brought together Black women from various parts of the D.C. metropolitan area eager to solve problems affecting Black women and society at large. For Prince George’s County educator Ateya Ball-Lacy, demanding respect for Black women and girls requires denouncing media songs and other facets of the culture that diminishes their humanity.
“There has been a lot of conversation around R. Kelly and sexual abuse, but we’re still holding places for popular music from our men and boys that dismisses our womanhood and gives the world permission to disrespect and denigrate us,” said Ball-Lacy, an assistant principal and academic dean, and founder of Hood Smart: The Urban STEMulus Project, a platform for mathematically and scientifically astute young people.
On Saturday morning, Ball-Lacy marched with her 15-year-old daughter and a bevy of family and friends.
“It’s time to have a conversation about the music that we dance to around our sons that shows them women are not worthy of respect,” she said. “A lot of the language that relates to Black women cannot be used in the same way for others.”
Women’s March organizers also had a supporter in Maurice Cook, a local organizer who expressed his respect for Mallory and the dialogue she sparked when she didn’t let calls of anti-Semitism deter her cause.
He said this situation revealed room for improvement in Black-Jewish relations.
“It’s an important conversation to have and I like the way Tamika Mallory did it on her own terms,” Cook said. “Of course, they’re going to go after her on that. There’s an Israel lobby that spends a lot of money to keep that agenda going and labeling those supportive of Palestine as anti-Semitic. Those who see through this see that the Palestinian struggle is close to the Black woman’s struggle.”