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What has the Women’s March accomplished, beyond mere visibility? | Jessa Crispin | Opinion


In two short years, the Women’s March has gone from amassing good will (and hefty donations) to amassing suspicion. Once heralded for organizing the single largest protest in America’s history, now the only thing anyone wants to talk about is the leaders’ association with antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

This weekend, the third women’s march on Washington, with corresponding local marches in cities across the United States, will be taking place, but it risks being overshadowed by the storm of criticism that has arisen about alleged antisemitic rhetoric within the group’s leadership and investigations by the Daily Beast and Tablet into the possible mishandling of funds.

In this moment of suspicion and doubt, as donors, followers and sponsors all reconsider whether it is wise to be publicly associated with an organization whose leaders refuse to distance itself from a man who spouts conspiracy theories about Jews running the financial systems of the world and being responsible for the American slave trade, particularly during a time of increased antisemitic hate crimes and violent attacks, we should also look at what it is exactly that the Women’s March does.

The Women’s March Inc pulls in millions of dollars in donations and is one of the most visible advocacy groups for women – possibly second only to Planned Parenthood, which has decided to stand by its embattled partner in this time of struggle – so what has it actually accomplished?

Since its inception, Women’s March has faced criticism by many within the feminist community. The March and its participants, we heard from many critics, marginalized Native women, disabled women, women of color, trans women and Jewish women to present a very safe, white, middle of the road protest.

Others called the organization out for not having any real agenda, and for focusing solely on what it was against – the Trump administration and Republican control of Congress – and not what it was for. This is a common problem for organizations that begin as protest movements. As Robin D G Kelly pointed out, writing about the 1963 March on Washington: “Big glitzy marches do not make a movement; the organizations and activists who came to Washington, DC, will continue to do their work, fight their fights, and make connections between disparate struggles, no matter what happens in the limelight.” The March, in order to have mass appeal and palatability, seems to be focusing its attention on empty slogans rather than structural change.

Recently, Jill Filipovic at Vanity Fair credited the Women’s March for the election of an historic number of women into public office during the 2018 midterms. It’s telling, however, that it wasn’t the Women’s March team’s organizational efforts she credited, it was merely the “visibility” of women at the first march on Washington. Suddenly, she claimed, there was a new awareness of women’s political power, and that helped usher in a new generation of novice women politicians.

Visibility is great, but it’s not visibility that wins campaigns. It’s money, it’s policy, it’s the day to day business of meeting with constituents, understanding their concerns and coming up with ideas about how to address those concerns. It’s making speeches and shaking hands. It is the day to day grind of fighting against voter suppression, gerrymandering, and other shady attempts the powerful use to maintain their power.

This is a consistent problem with the Women’s March. Under their mission statement, they claim: “We believe in reproductive freedom,” but as access to abortion and family planning services continue to erode in much of the nation, it’s clear that simply stating a pro-choice position does not create a pro-choice world. It requires subsidizing birth control, training doctors in abortion methods, fighting state and local legislation that continues to shut down clinics, and so on. The slogan is meaningless if it is not backed up with organization and action.

The Women’s March had a few initiatives for getting out the vote during the recent midterm elections, including phone banking, although the Women’s March Inc ignored repeated requests for information on how many volunteers participated in those efforts and how many calls were made. Their website lists the actions Women’s March has done, but it is mostly hashtag campaigns on social media in response to the Kavanaugh trial and attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Again, the emphasis is on visibility, rather than real action.

It’s important here to distinguish between the local Women’s March chapters – many of whom did engage with individual campaigns and organize getting people to the polls on election day – and the national organization. Several local chapters, in Florida, Barcelona, Washington state, Canada, Portland and the Global organization, have recently been actively distancing and disassociating themselves from the national leadership, and others have complained to Tablet that while the national organization boasts of the efforts of the local chapters in order to attract donations, they do not share funds or resources.

None of this has stopped Women’s March from trying to coin the term “Women’s Wave”, as opposed to the Democrats’ “blue wave” as the primary descriptor of what happened on election day. They are selling coffee mugs and T-shirts emblazoned with “Women’s Wave” in their online shop.

Women have historically been politically marginalized and disenfranchised, and with an administration and Republican Senate majority that is actively hostile to things such as abortion rights, protections for vulnerable populations, social welfare programs and access to healthcare, there is a real hunger for women’s concerns to be taken seriously and turned into political action.

Women’s March has taken advantage of that hunger and is trying to satisfy it with T-shirts and hashtags. It turns out antisemitism allegations and lack of financial transparency are not the only reasons to withdraw support from the organization. Our money, our time and our energy is better spent on more substantive fare.


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