The Women's March (Or Why the Only Drama Is No Drama at All)
1/11/19 - We discuss the very real concerns about antisemitism within the leadership of the Women's March. In a Kardashian-level internet investigation, we provide you with the background you need to understand this latest drama: from its initial organizing, centering of white women, framing principles, fallout from Charlottesville, and the recurring role of Louis Farrakhan. So while the New York Times is not incorrect to note the divisions "roiling" the Women's March, fighting for freedom and justice isn't a pretty and pleasant task undertaken by nice ladies. Anger, hurt, and fear are all valid emotions when building a movement.
Producer: Gina Delvac
Hosts: Aminatou Sow & Ann Friedman
Theme song: Call Your Girlfriend by Robyn
Composer: Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs.
Associate Producer: Destry Maria Sibley
Visual Creative Director: Kenesha Sneed
Merch Director: Caroline Knowles
Editorial Assistant: Laura Bertocci
Ad sales: Midroll
2018: “Women’s March Roiled by Accusations of Anti-Semitism”
2016: “Amid Division, a March in Washington Seeks to Bring Women Together”
2017: Day Without a Woman strike platform
Linda Sarsour response in the Nation
Adam Serwer, “Why Tamika Mallory Won’t Condemn Farrakhan”
Collier Meyerson’s Twitter thread on anti-Semitism and racism
TRANSCRIPT: The Women’s March (Or Why the Only Drama Is No Drama at All)
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend!
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. I think it's worth in talking about this specific headline, Women's March Roiled by Accusations of Anti-Semitism, talking about some historical context for the Women's March and what has really roiled it since day one. We did a research dive for this episode.
Aminatou: Hello Ann Friedman!
Ann: Hi, hi. Happy 2019 again. Always.
Ann: What if I just say that every podcast of the entire year?
Aminatou: You know I would enjoy it. I love being reminded what year we're in so I stopped signing things 2017. Thank you.
Ann: I do think it's important in January to be constantly vigilant of what year it is.
Ann: Okay, I feel like we should get right into it because we have so much to talk about this week.
Aminatou: Tell me what are we talking about this week?
Ann: Well I am going to explain this listener email we received. It started with a link to a New York Times article, the headline of which is Women's March Roiled by Accusations of Anti-Semitism. And the listener writes "This situation is heartbreaking to me. It's the epitome of divide and conquer. I believe that both sides believe strongly in their truth but I also believe that we must find a way to live with our differences and unite to fight the bigger challenges before us. The two of you have a platform and the skills to start to reverse the vicious cycle. I don't blame you for wanting to avoid it but the stakes are just too high."
Aminatou: I have so many feelings.
Ann: Me too!
Aminatou: I have so -- like full body chills feelings. 1) I use my platform for snacks. Let's just get that right. Snacks and luxury skincare. So my job is not to solve problems.
Ann: Are you reacting to that word avoid? Because I had a real reaction to that.
Aminatou: I'm reacting to avoid. But the other thing that I think I'm also having a very strong reaction to is that I just firmly believe that if you're above the age of 13 if you hear yourself saying both sides you should take a deep breath and whatever comes afterwards is never good.
Ann: So, okay, I just want to suggest for the sake of staying on track that we come back to this listener email.
Ann: Because I can definitely go off the deep end with the many things this makes me feel but I want to wait for one second because we definitely have talked about drama within the Women's March organizing, different things that are going on with regards to race and class and politics at play with who is showing up to march and what does the organizing look like and does it represent Feminism capital F and can feminism even be represented by a concrete group of people? We have talked about these things over the past two years. But I think it's worth in talking about this specific headline, roiled by accusations of anti-Semitism, talking about some historical context for the women's march and what has really roiled it since day one. We did a research dive for this episode.
Aminatou: We did. We did a lot of research.
Ann: You're my favorite investigative reporter and I'm so happy we're going to talk about this.
Aminatou: I mean I used all of my Kardashian recap skills to bear for the Women's March for you.
Aminatou: So let's get grounded in some just facts about the Women's March. The Women's March happened on the heels of some would say the most controversial election we've ever had. The truth of the Women's March is that 1% of the entire population of the US participated. It's the largest single day protest in this country's history.
Aminatou: So that's not nothing. That's huge. I don't like the word drama but for the purposes of this I'm going to use drama because it is very Kardashian-feeling. The first bit of drama that there was with the Women's March was there was a sense of the Women's March was very white-centered and it mostly catered to issues that were important to white women. And this was fully when we did not know who was organizing the Women's March. It's like you just kept being invited on Facebook to a march that kept swelling and it was unclear who was the leader of it.
Ann: Right, like splinter groups from pantsuit nation. Like if you are not deep in a specific corner of Facebook you were like what is going on?
Aminatou: Right. And so this is happening. People are like who is organizing the Women's March? And that is when the names Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour all pop up. And so these women are brought in to be the co-chairs of the Women's March. You've probably heard some names. You probably have not heard any. I would say that probably Linda Sarsour is the name that most people who are in this corner of the Internet have heard because Linda is very known for her support of the movement to boycott Israel. She is a Palestinian-American and she is a very visible Muslim woman.
Ann: Right. And I think it's worth noting that there were definitely what I felt were really good conversations around who does this movement center? Who is getting to be held up as the leadership? And who is doing the unsexy work to plan this march? These are kind of questions that came up vis-à-vis historic issues of race and privilege within feminism. Some of those conversations were had at the time.
Aminatou: Right. Remember that the name even had to change.
Aminatou: The name had to change because the original name, you're right, had been the Million Women March after the march on Washington for jobs and freedom which was like a historical civil rights rally on the mall where MLK delivered the I Have a Dream speech. So they went through different iterations of the name until they settled on the Women's March (TM) never used before.
Ann: A real shocker I've got to say.
Aminatou: Well, you know, you've got to be specific about your marches. Listen, we're about to get into the drama of this thing.
Aminatou: But, you know, I think that you're right. Those conversations were really important to have because historically in moments like these white women have just come in to reinvent the wheel or to purport that sexism is new. It was a new feeling. And after the election it was definitely a place where I would say as a woman of color I was very tender. Where people were like "Oh my god, can you believe how trash the country is?" And I'm like "Welcome to the party young lady." [Laughs]
Ann: And you're like can you believe? [Laughs] I believe.
Aminatou: Yeah. I was like yeah, I didn't find out that America was racist when Hillary Clinton lost the election.
Aminatou: You know what I mean? But a lot of people did I guess.
Ann: So all of this stuff I feel was what was underpinning the conversation about who was leading the Women's March, what it was called, what issues it was centering. That is a conversation that was part of the earliest days of this effort.
Aminatou: Right. And it was really important to have. I think that everybody should have a healthy level of skepticism when you get an invitation from somebody that you don't know to something that is, you know, that supposedly includes you. I think that that is fair. So as we said the co-chairs are installed. The bus starts driving itself. The next issue . . .
Ann: Or rather seven co-chairs start driving the bus with a lot of help.
Aminatou: Right. You know, and so the march happens. The march I hear was lit. I personally did not go.
Ann: Well I did go. I'm going to talk more about this a little later in this episode but yes, I was there. It happened. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I saw Instagrams. People went. It was great.
Ann: We made an episode about it. You might've heard some people. Yeah.
Aminatou: I heard it. There were very -- you talked to these very cute young women. Even as somebody who did not go, for a fleeting moment I was like this feels great, you know? Even though my third eye is wide open. Right after the march the Women's March drafts what they call their unity principles. It's the README, the About page of the Women's March for the tech ladies out there.
Ann: I think also designed to answer this question of okay, the march is over. What now? What is this group about? That's how I at least read these unity principles, as a statement of where is this organization, if it's an organization, where is it going?
Aminatou: Right, and that's how they're meant to be read. And so the planks were all good but one of them definitely raised some eyebrows. I will read it. It said "We believe that women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights." You might've heard that one before. "We must create a society in which women including black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer, and trans women are free and able to care and nurture for their families however they are formed in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments." That sounds great to me generally.
But a thing that also happens when you start listing out a soup of identities, there are identities you do not cover, some very obvious and some not very obvious. And Jewish feminists flagged very early on that that list of people who were upheld as the society of women that we were creating did not include Jewish feminists. This I think is important because historically in the United States Jewish feminists have been at the forefront of the progressive movement. And so it's not like a group of women just decided "Hey, how come women from Wichita aren't included in the plank?" It was like women who historically have been feminists organizers and women who have been a part of the Women's March from the beginning, because you have to remember there are co-chairs, but there are also a lot of people who are working behind-the-scenes. It's not like seven co-chairs or however many co-chairs they have is not what organizes the Women's March. It is a coalition of people and here was a group of women who felt that they were not named in the plank.
Ann: And I think it was, for me anyway, I read some of that as saying "Hey, Jewish women are vulnerable in this particular way in this particular moment too."
Aminatou: Agreed. That is very true and fair. The next point of interest is . . .
Ann: Drama, just say it.
Aminatou: The next drama that emerges is so, you know, the Women's March happened in January. The unity plank happens like Januaryish. And then in March, you know, is International Women's Day. And so March 2017 I guess we remember that was also called the Day Without a Woman strike. You know, there were hashtags where we're supposed to walk out of work, like that whole thing. And the Women's March for the strike, for the Day Without a Woman strike, included a plank on an anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism. So the plank started with the words "Against the open white supremacists in the current government and the far right and anti-Semites they have given confidence to we stand for an uncompromising anti-racist and anti-colonialism feminism." Then that same plank ends with these words: "Just for Palestine, or for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement."
So some of us are just like all of this sounds great and some of us are like eyebrow raised, like what is going on here? This prompts an op-ed by Emily Shire called Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists? If you don't know what Zionism is you're probably going to have to look it up to keep up with this conversation. [Laughter] Listen, Zionism is a political belief that some people have that the state of Israel has a right to exist. It sounds very duh, Aficionado Magazine to some of us and to others of us it literally is a challenge. So you can decide for yourself where you fall on that, but Google it, Zionism.
Anyway, so this question that Emily Shire poses of Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists is actually a very salient question because the plank implies that if opposition to Israel -- so it says that if opposition to Israel is a core plank of being a feminist, or at least being a Women's March feminist.
Aminatou: TM. It's true though. It's like where do Jews fit in? And I think that is a very valid question.
Ann: Well in part valid because justice for Palestine was not defined in-depth of what does justice look like?
Ann: Which let's talk about core activist questions all the time, what does justice look like?
Aminatou: What does justice look like? And also to be clear if you read the plank it calls out anti-Semites, like the anti-Semites that the government has given confidence to. And so there's nuance here, right? And it's why the devil is in the details. But anyway Emily Shire writes this op-ed Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists? And Linda Sarsour who we mentioned earlier responds in the Nation and says "You either stand up for the rights of all women including Palestinians or none. There's just no way around it." And so this sets up clearly the showdown here, right? And the showdown is truly that Linda's comment implies that you are either a Zionist or a feminist.
Ann: And because she's part of the small organizing committee it implies that is the view of the Women's March and that's what justice for Palestine means in that language in the plank.
Aminatou: 100%. And I will say too that something that is really fascinating about the drama so far is that even though everybody is using their words in print or writing or whatever there are still so many questions. Like the word justice, what does it mean to all of us? What does it mean to stand up for the rights of all women? Are we agreed on that? And also why can't you be a Zionist and a feminist? Or why -- like I don't think that anybody has convincingly explained that yet. So anyway, you know, the drama happens, the controversy. We're moving on. We're now in August 2017 which if you remember is when Charlottesville happened. And Charlottesville was I would say very devastating to the psyche of a lot of people for various reasons. It was explicitly titled a Nazi-led march on Charlottesville. And so the Women's March like a lot of organizations responded and criticized the actions of I cannot believe we have Nazis. Like every time I say it . . .
Ann: The Tiki torch Nazis, yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, the Pier 1 Nazis, but they're still Nazis. I'm just like Prometheus didn't die and give man fire for you to do this nonsense but here we are anyway. And so the Women's March, everybody else responds. They had these nine Instagram posts doing comms around what happened and a lot of Jewish women flagged that the Instagram messaging did not center Jewish people which again if you remember, you know, in a Nazi-led march usually the conclusion is who are they coming for first? They are coming for Jews first.
Ann: Well and also if you remember the original plank and the list of all the different intersecting identities with being a woman, the fact that they like many Jewish women noted that Jewish was not included in that list, it's like you can really understand why some people are looking for -- who want to see themselves reflected in a statement after an explicitly white supremacist and anti-Semitic march.
Ann: Like it makes sense that people are reading closely what the Women's March is messaging.
Aminatou: Yeah. And this woman Heather Heyer died also who was a very -- she was like a wonderful human who had just done so much anti-racist activism in her life. A lot of the conversation I think around Charlottesville did also become a conversation about anti-black racism. And the truth is just this, it's that anti-Semitism is also a form of racism. I would say, you know, that it is one of the most basic forms of racism that we have. You can call the prejudice whatever you want; it is experienced in a way that is very specifically tailored to your identity. So when you put this conversation even about Charlottesville in the backdrop of Jewish women feeling like they have been erased and also that their fear and their concern is not taken seriously by people that they're supposed to be on the same team on none of this surprises you. So Charlottesville happens. There we are. Now this is where the real classic Internet drama happens.
Ann: Whoa, we're not in classic Internet drama territory?
Aminatou: We're not in classic Internet drama territory. This is where classic Internet drama territory lives. Then like all of this has passed and people start dredging up photos of some of the Women's March organizers palling around with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. A lot of the photos are from a 2015 event.
Ann: So recent.
Aminatou: So this is why I'm saying that it's classic Internet drama. It's like you start looking -- you go into the archive. It's like you can't hit them with what you have currently. You know there's something bad in the past. This is why I personally auto-delete all my tweets. I have a tool that does this. Cannot play a player.
Ann: But also I will say about this tactic if you feel that someone is erasing you or discounting your point-of-view it's like often the receipts are there in the not-too-distant past, you know what I mean?
Aminatou: Oh, 100%.
Ann: I'm not surprised that something was found.
Aminatou: Nobody is surprised here but I want to qualify that the pictures were not recent.
Ann: Yeah, yeah.
Aminatou: I say that because I think that not in this specific case but I do think people should be given an opportunity to explain themselves. Like you can't make conclusions from an Instagram post or from, I don't know, like a tweet from five years ago. A lot of times you're right but I think you've got to give people a chance to explain themselves.
Ann: Yeah. I understand the impulse to dig and I also think that in some way it's fair even if it's kind of old to ask for a conversation when you find something that is furthering whatever hurt you are feeling.
Aminatou: I agree with you. I think that -- and also we'll probably get into this later -- also the reason that I bring this up is it is often a tactic that right-wing people use.
Ann: Oh, 100%.
Aminatou: On people that they're trying to discredit.
Ann: For me the question is who wants a conversation?
Aminatou: Exactly. But the thing that happens is the pictures come up and very prominent Jewish women do ask for a conversation. And this is on Twitter. They ask for the Women's March organizers to explain the context of these photos and also in finding the photos people obviously find the specific event that it's at and the remarks that Louis Farrakhan has made. Now we're going to pause here. If you don't know who Louis Farrakhan is welcome to being a normal, regular person.
Aminatou: Nobody gives a shit about Louis Farrakhan. You sitting at home probably have more influence than him in the world.
Ann: Wow, cutting.
Aminatou: But Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam which is a group that over the civil rights movement has been very prominent for very specific and salient reasons. And over the years has also, I would say, they're not in vogue. And part of it is that Louis Farrakhan is a hate monger. He has said explicitly anti-Semitic things. He has said explicitly trans-phobic things. He has said explicitly sexist things. But it's also true that he was an important person in the civil rights movement, like two things can be true at the same time.
And this is not a group. I would say that in the black community today, the Nation of Islam, it is not culturally relevant but I would say that it is an emotionally relevant component of what it means to be a black activist. Adam Serwer at The Atlantic has written fully the definitive take on why you should know why the Nation of Islam is important to black people and we'll link to it in the show notes.
Ann: Okay, and this brings us up to the background that is relevant to the drama or division that are making headlines today, so let's take a break and then we will talk about that.
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Ann: Okay, so this brings us up to December, 2018 to clarify. So Tablet Magazine which is an online daily magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture publishes an article about antisemitism within the Women's March. Would you say that's a fair top line on this long article? Including some statements from an organizer named Vanessa Wruble. This Tablet Magazine article is headlined Is the Women's March Melting Down? But at its core featured some charges of anti-Semitism among the small organizing group, particularly the people who were there at the very, very beginning planing the 2017 march. And it mostly relies on a woman named Vanessa Wruble as a source who says that at one of the early planning meetings the co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmon Perez "asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people." The Tablet article says that six of the seven women present at that meeting did not talk to them about it so the source for this is Vanessa Wruble. People who were present agree that whiteness was discussed and white women's role historically as exploiters of black and brown people was discussed. But I think what is disputed by people who were in the room is whether it was specifically singling out Jewish women.
So this article opened up a larger conversation about anti-Semitism and the Women's March, about Louis Farrakhan and the relationship of some of the Women's March organizers to him. There was a New York Times article as well which is the one that the listener originally sent us but it is touching on a lot of these things that have kind of come up continually over the past two years of the Women's March's existence which is to say acknowledging anti-Semitism, acknowledging the vulnerabilities of Jewish women, but also the role of whiteness, the tendency to center issues of particular importance to white women, whether this movement is really inclusive for everyone and how. It's really kind of dredged up a lot of things even though a lot of the specific examples we just talked about are not being included in the conversation that's happening in this moment since December.
So, you know, people who are in positions of leadership at the Women's March now like the communications director Cassidy Fendlay said "She is concerned about the Tablet article because 'I want Jewish women to feel welcome. We are fighting for them because we are.'" One thing that is happening is a lot of discussion about Louis Farrakhan.
Aminatou: In the Farrakhan photos being dredged up it was also uncovered that the Nation of Islam provided security for the Women's March which a lot of people felt now meant that they had a business relationship with the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Islam was embroiled in the inner workings of the Women's March. And so Tamika Mallory who is one of the co-chairs of the Women's March clarified to the New York Times that the Nation of Islam was not hired for security. That's a direct quote from her. An internal document obtained by the Times said that the Women's March group does not ask the religious affiliations of contractors, but said that because private security firms employ a large number of Nation of Islam members it is likely that some members of the sect have provided security for Women's March events. This is hilarious for anybody who knows the dress of a man in the Nation of Islam. They're always wearing impeccable clothes and a bow tie. And I was like if somebody from the Nation of Islam is guarding you you know. [Laughs]
Ann: A strong aesthetic.
Aminatou: A very strong aesthetic. A very strong '60s freedom aesthetic.
Ann: The truth of the matter is Louis Farrakhan means something different to you possibly depending on your race or your orientation to the civil rights movement or your perspective on what he does or his history that is positive in the world in addition to the absolutely indefensible anti-Semitic remarks, sexist remarks, things like that. And our pal Adam Serwer wrote a piece last year in The Atlantic explaining what the Nation of Islam means to some people, not to others, and he wrote "Most people outside the black community come into contact with the Nation of Islam this way: Farrakhan makes anti-Semitic remarks which generate press coverage and then demands for condemnation. But many black people come into contact with the Nation of Islam as a force in impoverished black communities, not simply as a champion of the black poor or working class, but of the black underclass. Black people, especially men who have been written off or abandoned by white society." All of that is not to say hey, Louis Farrakhan, great guy, no big deal. But it is to say that he and what it signals to align yourself with him has become related to this conversation about charges of anti-Semitic comments in the earliest days of organizing for the Women's March, a private conversation that is not recorded, that not everyone is on the record talking about either.
And, you know, also is another vector for having this long-simmering debate about both the validity and the real threat and real scourge that is anti-Semitism in addition to the real threat and real problem and real scourge of anti-black racism.
Aminatou: And I think another vector of this conversation too is I have heard both in private and seen on Twitter, I have seen so many Jewish women chafe at the fact that they are . . . you know, they're lumped into the white supremacist coalition of white people. It is both a really interesting and painful conversation to have. Friend-of-the-podcast Collier Meyerson wrote actually a wonderful Twitter thread about this that I think should be required reading for a lot of people and she makes so many good points in it, like namely that Jews are an incredibly unique group in America.
Ann: White Jews, yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, "White Jews are an incredibly unique group in America. They benefit from systemic white supremacy and are the targets of individual white supremacists." That is a distinction that I think is lost on a lot of people who are not Jewish. You know, and Collier goes on to share examples of her life, like Collier herself is Jewish but she is not white. She is married to someone who is Jewish and white. And so they both experience their race and their religion and their Jewish identity in completey different ways. And there's also this idea of who is white? It's such a scam. There was a historical context in which Jewish people are not white. Like for a long time Jews were not white in America and this process of becoming white is a thing that has happened to a lot of ethnicities like people from the Balkans, people from, you know, name European countries that historically people have had prejudices about.
Aminatou: And I think that for Jews it takes on a very different shape because you cannot separate Jews from the Jewish religion, you cannot separate them from Israel, and you cannot separate them from anti-Semitism no matter how they identify in their Judaism and in their Jewishness. And you see this so much in activist conversations where people -- like there is a lot of pain. The truth is oppression is painful and fear is very painful and, you know, feeling targeted, that's terrorism. It is incredibly painful. And a lot of these conversations come from a place of very palpable pain but there is also the fact that a lot of things can be true at the same time. It can be true that the Women's March leaders should be more forceful about condemning anti-Semitism. It is true that black people can be more forceful about condemning anti-Semitism. That is a reality of life in America and in the world.
But it is also true -- I will speak for myself at least only -- I: know I have felt a lot of pain hearing white Jewish women talk about anti-Semitism as if it is the only form of racism that's out there. Or like "I don't believe in oppression Olympics." I was like nobody is trying to medal here. But I also understand how your identity intersects so personally with the kind of targeting that you feel, you know? But the truth -- I'm like who makes all these rules? The white man, and the white man wins and everybody gets to fight for the scraps right? And so just thinking about how so many people are right in this conversation, like Jewish feminists are right and so many people are wrong. The Women's March's response has been wrong in a lot of ways and sometimes that's the shit you have to contend with.
Ann: Yeah. And so I'm interested in going back to that listener email that we read at the beginning and reading it again and talking about it in the context of all of this. I'm just going to read this again. "This situation is heartbreaking to me. It's the epitome of divide-and-conquer. I believe that both sides believe strongly in their truth but I also believe that we must find a way to live with our differences and unite to fight the bigger challenges before us. The two of you have a platform and the skills to start to reverse the vicious cycle. I don't blame you for wanting to avoid it but the stakes are just too high."
Aminatou: Full body hives. [Laughs]
Ann: So I really feel like one thing that is important contextually for this email is that a lot of coverage of this particular moment, the stuff about the allegations of anti-Semitism in the earliest planning days, things that were said in person, and then also the things about march leadership associating with Louis Farrakhan, that's kind of how the current "divisions" or differences are being categorized. A lot of that coverage is on right-wing media. Like when we were kind of doing some okay, let's find some things we know we want to reference, I had to like skip around one million daily . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, who's keeping the receipts of when the women are fighting each other? You know what I mean? [Laughs]
Ann: Of course. They are rubbing their hands together like Mr. Burns, like they are delighted in this.
Aminatou: That's funny. I was going to say Birdman, so wow, racial divides for real. For real.
Ann: Racial divides, I know.
Aminatou: Who is Mr. Burns? Just kidding. Just kidding.
Ann: Choose from the buffet of analogies, like whatever is more relevant to you.
Aminatou: Simpsons lives matter.
Ann: Oh my god, don't even Yellow Lives Matter me. I can't. But, you know, so anyway so I just want to say I think some of the desire to say things like "Let's unite and fight the bigger challenges" come from this desire to not air our dirty laundry or fight who's really the problem here which is like this horrible presidency or something like that. And if you've been paying any attention while we've been talking about all this stuff we are talking about literally the deepest and most painful divisions and scourges that exist in modern culture and society it's like we're talking about endemic racism and we're talking about differences in privilege that are really hard to separate out. And we are talking about what happens in organizing contexts when you're trying to write one platform to speak for literally millions of people. Like all of these are things that are not getting solved by the Women's March, are not getting solved this week.
Aminatou: Not even this lifetime maybe.
Ann: Oh my god, maybe. Definitely. [Laughter] I mean 100%.
Aminatou: Just being optimistic Ann.
Ann: You know, just trying to be a good ancestor and continuing to address it.
Aminatou: Yeah. And also, you know, the other thing about getting an email like this too is part of the reason why these kinds of emails worry me, these like oh, we should be united and we should fight and we shouldn't fight each other, is I'm like this is such an ahistorical position to have, you know?
Aminatou: The history of any progress that we have had as a people has included very serious infighting. Part of the reason we know that Louis Farrakhan is a piece of shit is because of fighting in the civil rights movement, you know what I mean? It's really important. And I think that -- forget that for one minute too. I do think that there's also just this idea that all women have to get along all the time and we have to get along even when we are trying to literally dismantle systems of hate. I'm like are you kidding me? We're gladiators in an arena here. Nobody is going to be nice to you here.
Ann: Only total dummies would agree 100% of the time on how to take down such a complex system of injustices.
Aminatou: Yeah. I'm like are you serious? You're talking to people who are carrying hundreds of years of trauma and pain and also just the psychological warfare every day of feeling like your government is out to get you and that you can't trust anybody anymore. Like we are fighting for our lives every day, and the idea that you're supposed to be a polite lady when we are trying to do the work of freedom?
Ann: Or just swallow it and do it? Yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's weird. But also read a fucking book man. Women have been fighting forever, you know? So Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad actually does a really great job at this. The book is obviously about the historical importance of anger but a lot of that is talking about the in-fighting in the women's movement. So when I think about going back to who went to the Women's March and who thought they knew what the Women's March was or whatever, I'm like if you went to the Women's March because you thought that it was going to be fun and you were going to have a good time you are literally the biggest dummy ever. Going into an arena of activism is to go to a place of conflict, like you are going to the mat every single time. And it's normal to fight. Divisiveness is good. You should be worried if you find hundreds of thousands of people who have all agreed on the fact that there is one way to dismantle hatred and we haven't done it yet. I was like you should probably be worried about that. I think a lot also about the second wave feminists that everyone loves to shit on. Those ladies got a lot done but those ladies cried all the time.
Ann: Oh they were so, so angry at each other. Yeah.
Aminatou: They were so angry at each other and also it's okay to be angry at each other. It is very hard to look at people who you believe are on your side and understand still the world affects you in different ways. It's incredibly painful. And I'm not saying this from a position of being a person who is like, I don't know, more marginalized than other friends that I have. I was like no, this is hard for everybody. And the thing that always fascinates me is there are women who can understand this in relation to men for example where they're like "Ah, we're just all trying to get free here. How come the men are oppressing us?" But they don't understand that that same dynamic is possible when the men are not there, that it's actually not about gender and it's not just about class and it's not . . . I'm like it's about power and it's about who has it and who doesn't have it and feeling that you can trust the people around you and feeling that you're seeing every single time, that people see you for who you are.
Aminatou: I feel like we've had Internet feminists fights that were like there was way more fire than this.
Ann: Oh my god, completely.
Aminatou: And we all survived. The Women's March fight is happening in the New York Times. I'm like how high brow and chill, you know? But I was like people's lives get destroyed by doing freedom. You're playing with fire.
Ann: I don't know. I mean I think the reason that we're talking about this is because of that stat you read that 1% of the whole US population showed up for this march. I think not to defend the New York Times ignoring Internet feminist beef for years.
Aminatou: Please ignore it. [Laughter]
Ann: I know. I know.
Aminatou: Nobody write about the beef. Whew.
Ann: But I do think there is something going on here where because of the sheer size of the number of people who showed up there is like this sense of this is like the force pushing back against the agenda of this presidency which is obviously bullshit. I don't think that even the people who are most invested in time and energy with organizing things under the Women's March (TM) banner would claim that this is the way to be in the resistance. However . . .
Aminatou: I know, but Ann don't you also believe that that is a classic kind of sexism? Like why do we have to solve everything? [Laughs]
Ann: Well that's -- right. The idea that okay, so now this group of women is going to start shoveling the shit in real time is like what everyone has been conditioned to think socially. That's one thing. I also think it's interesting when you said you don't show up at the march to have a good time, because when I thought about my motivation for actually attending the Women's March I wouldn't say I show up to have a good time but I don't feel like that is where my activist work happens. There is not a part of me that thinks this is how I'm making change, showing up at this march every January. I honestly go there to feel a sense of community and being reinvigorated in a sense. I think sometimes it's good to be photographed in a large group of people whose only uniting message is we hate this president. And I also think that these problems are going to happen, aside from the whole women shoveling everyone's shit which is a real dynamic here, the other thing that's going on is if you think of feminism like a funnel, like taking a political stance or doing an activist thing or maybe calling themselves a feminist for the first time, this is providing some really low-level way of doing that which I don't confuse with the kind of long-game activist work that needs to happen during this presidency or frankly any time. But I do think that it is kind of a recruitment tool I guess is what I'm trying to say and it's a tool for recommitting to doing activism in other venues. That is what it is for me. I do not see it representative of a resistance. I do not see it as the governing body of feminism.
One thing that's happening in the background of a lot of the coverage, and I'm talking now about more well-meaning coverage, not like bullshit right-wing media coverage of these issues, is it's not being properly contextualized in the scope of other activism that's happening or other feminist activism work that's happening.
Aminatou: I think that that's fair. I was thinking a lot about why this story is having such a moment in a press that usually ignores large feminist issues. People love it when women fight, you know? And there is something very appealing about it and there is something very . . . the historical forces who want to make sure that we are never free, they love this shit. Like going back to this conversation that I think a lot of Jewish people have that is always "Why do black people -- why can't they, I don't know, exile Louis Farrakhan once and for all?" I'm like hmm, we have. He is not relevant in my imagination in the same way that he is relevant in the imagination of a Jewish person. And to be clear feeling anger about how he is relevant in their imagination is 100% justified. I don't want to gloss over that. The man is a hate monger.
But the reason that this is so top-of-mind for me is again when I look at the conversation around the Women's March leaders and this conversation about should they step down? What should they do? Whatever. I was like first of all nobody should have the job of being a full-time activist. That is crazy.
Ann: That is controversial. [Laughs]
Aminatou: You know what I mean? Listen.
Ann: No movement should have leaders.
Aminatou: No, I don't think so. I think movements should 100% have leaders. I think in this moment that we are in how we raise leaders to be faces of movements that they don't quite fully represent and then there's a celebrity aspect to it and there's a ginormous fame aspect to it, I was like this is just bad. It's just bad. It's also not a job that I want so I never understand why somebody wants that job. Also being the co-chair of the Women's March is very different than being, I don't know, the CEO of a non-profit. I think there's also something about actual what is your role? What do you do every day?
Ann: Right, and that's an organization, not a movement. I think that's the difference.
Ann: The Women's March is an organization.
Aminatou: Exactly, the Women's March is an organization and that is controversial. So going back to this point of watching somebody like Tamika Mallory take a lot of fire for this organization in particular has been very instructive for me. And the reason that I talked about the context too of how long suffrage took, I want to be clear that I don't want to fall into the trap of the Women's March has been 365 days. What have they accomplished? You know, I'm like when it's been 100 years come back then we can talk about it. Because truly we cannot evaluate what they've accomplished. But I also feel confident in saying that the last year of the Women's March this outsized amount of power that I have seen people ascribe to them, I personally do not feel it. I was like I do not feel that the Women's March has been powerful on a grassroots and an electoral level at the way that people are projecting onto them.
Ann: Or like a policy change level outside electoral politics.
Aminatou: Totally. And that's not a knock on the Women's March; it's the reality of hello, you just got here.
Ann: You're two years deep, yeah.
Aminatou: You know what I mean? Yeah. You just got here. So -- and I also want to be clear in saying I am disappointed and disgusted that it took the leaders of the Women's March so long to say the very simple "Anti-Semitism is not cool." You know, that's a thing we should . . .
Ann: Or also like we're sorry.
Aminatou: Right, and we're sorry.
Ann: For minimizing your pain.
Aminatou: 100%. I want to add all of that as a context to the thing I'm going to say which is that it has been very instructive for me to see this episode happen at the same time as the new Congress is being sworn in, watching Nancy Pelosi on TV receive this roaring ovation and adoration from people and she in her speech was talking about suffrage. And she was like "You know, it's been like women only got the right to vote 100 years ago." And I was like this is very interesting. I was like which women, Nancy Pelosi? And so for me having somebody like Tamika Mallory who in the grand scheme of electoral politics, of grassroots politics, name it, I'm like kind of a nobody if I'm honest about my feelings, watching her have to answer more for white supremacy than Nancy Pelosi who is the leader of the House, like to get away with something like that? I was like this is a very instructive moment. And it's a reminder about why we fight about the things that we fight about and why we are hurt in the ways we're hurt and why we lash out in the ways that we lash out. It is instructive but it's also fine, like women been fighting. Women fight and women get shit done and we don't all have to get along but we do have to do the work.
Ann: I'm nodding so hard my head is about to roll off because this Nancy Pelosi example is perfect because when I hear a phrase like "We must find a way to live with our differences and unite to fight the bigger challenges . . ."
Aminatou: From the reader's email.
Ann: From the reader's email, that implies to me like a hierarchy of what is a challenge? That means someone's making a decision about what a bigger challenge is. And historically when those terms are set they are set by white women, like women suddenly become synonymous with white women and you get things like a speech saying we had the vote for this many years and it's like okay . . .
Aminatou: Like bitch, who? [Laughs]
Ann: Who is the we? And I think that we must find a way to live with our differences. It's like who is the we? It's the same question. And I really think that we have derided the oppression Olympics. Like if you really believe that injustice is about a system of incredibly complex and interlocking systemic problems which is like what we believe in this family . . .
Ann: Then you are not going to be able to decide in a group of millions of people what the bigger challenges are. Part of what's going on is everyone is doing their part to work on things that they have a unique ability to affect, a unique investment in, and there is an expectation in my mind of support and solidarity. But everyone doesn't have to do that the same way and everyone doesn't have to unite behind the same goal. And because the Women's March isn't united by the same goal does not mean that all activism is in disarray and women can't get it together.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm like oppression is in disarray and in shambles.
Ann: Exactly. Oppression is wild. Oppression is chaotic. Yeah.
Aminatou: Activism is doing great. [Laughs]
Ann: I'm sorry I just keep thinking of oppression is in shambles.
Aminatou: Shambles. It's nuts.
Ann: I'm on the floor.
Aminatou: None of it makes sense. None of it makes sense and somehow it works.
Ann: But anyway, so just like ask these questions about who's finding a way to live with what differences? Who is determining who the bigger challenges are? To me I would rather be affiliated with people who are continuing to engage in difficult conversations about the shambles of oppressions all around us than people who are extremely on message and exclusionary and continuing to replicate the problems they see around them by ignoring them.
Aminatou: Yeah, you know? And the thing is this moment is also such a reminder to me because I can get so cynical about so much of this, like so much. Activism as a job. Jesus.
Ann: I like that you say that like you're delivering news to me. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I'm delivering news to myself because I have to remind myself, you know, part of what is going on in this moment is people are hurting.
Ann: And scared.
Aminatou: It's not about this like academic kind of, you know, explain your oppression or use the right word, the wokeness Olympics. This is not what's going on here. What is really going on here is that people are hurt and people are afraid and sometimes those are the actual words that you need to use. It's so important even amongst marginalized people to see and hear each other because otherwise all you think is that your pain is pain that nobody else has seen before. Isn't there a James Baldwin quote about this? And then he's like "And then you read a book and then you learn that the world is full of pain."
Ann: That's Aminatou Sow, not James Baldwin. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I'm paraphrasing so terribly. To the estate of James Baldwin I apologize. But you know what I mean? A lot of the blinders are not because you hate other people; the blinders are because you are in so much pain that you think your pain is the only pain the world knows.
Ann: Right. It's blotted out your ability to really grapple with the pain of others.
Aminatou: Right. And so for me, you know, my thing that I would like to see from people who are in activist circles is a little less academe speak and a lot more like can we just start saying the things we're afraid of like in real ways and the things that we are hurt by? Because this Women's March conversation to me, and it's not to say that people would've responded in the right way, but I have a different reaction hearing from the "Why are you still pals with Louis Farrakhan?" versus like a "Hey, I am really scared for myself and I'm scared for my family and here is a person that threatens my existence."
Ann: And you seem okay with him, yeah.
Aminatou: In fucking wolf's clothing -- or wolf in sheep's clothing, that thing. And you seem okay with him. I don't know the results of that. But I do think that at some point talking about the fear in a real way and in this hyper-personalized way which I think is . . . the fear is what led people who had never marched before to march. It's what led people who didn't give a shit about politics, people who never voted a day in their lives, to be like oh, I'm going to knit a thing and go halfway across the country with my friends. I was like what does that? It's fear and it's hurt and pain. And so we should probably call it by what it is and start dealing with it instead of pretending that everything is a system that you had to learn about in graduate school.
Ann: But also, you know, I think when I listen to you say that I realize that there are some environments in which putting that hurt and pain at the forefront works because you are all there with good intentions. And I think one reason why there is so much strife, it's like oh, weren't we supposed to all be here with a similar intention? And that is somehow thrown into question. And it's like actually I don't think you can lead with hurt when you're dealing with people who actively want to undermine your existence. But I do think that when you are working in close relationship with -- I'm not even going to say in the same movement as, but if your work is intersecting with the work of other people and you have some kind of core, core beliefs about justice or about freedom, you can lead with something like hurt and pain and fear and that can be a powerful force. That presumption is very important that the person on the other end cares about your pain. One reason I don't feel panicked about the state of activism when I read one New York Times article about the Women's March is because I see this as kind of one point on a bigger scatter plot that is way more complex.
Aminatou: Do you remember that part in Rebecca's book where Maxine Waters is watching Bella Abzug yell at Gloria Steinem?
Aminatou: Somebody is yelling. Somebody is crying. I'm misremembering the story.
Ann: There's drama, yeah.
Aminatou: But if I'm honest it's probably Bella is yelling. [Laughter] Like I have a hard time seeing . . .
Ann: Yella Abzug?
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm like Bella is yelling at Gloria. I don't see that anywhere. And there's crying and yelling and Maxine is like classic black lady watching two white ladies being like what the fuck is going on here? And Gloria just goes "That's how we talk to each other in New York." [Laughs] And that story made me so happy for so many reasons because I was like this is such a good vignette. People have been fighting. People have been fighting since before you were the apple in the eye of your own fucking oppression, like have been fighting for you, have been wanting to do something about. We're not reinventing the wheel. And so I think reading a lot about especially like the women's movement is something that it makes me feel better because I'm like oh, these people did a lot but my god they need a therapist in here.
Ann: Fighting it every step of the way internally as well as externally, yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah. But I'm like look at us, we can have a credit card without a husband. I can sign for my own apartment. I don't have to be shackled to him. And I'm like those bitches did that and there was crying and fighting every day. Thank you for your work.
Aminatou: So I don't know, I think look to other activists in your life because -- and look to read about their truth because we're not doing anything new here. Hatred is not new. Activism is not new. So I don't know, I take a tiny bit of solace in that. I'm like oh, we're right on schedule. This is great. This is great. So yeah.
Ann: I mean it's been right on schedule since the very first days, right?
Ann: It's not even . . .
Aminatou: Shambles. [Laughs]
Ann: Not even new today. Yeah, a shambles in every corner. Yeah. There aren't even any corners left. The whole building has collapsed. Like it is -- yeah.
Aminatou: Shambles. I love this. Okay. I need to lay on the floor because this is a lot.
Ann: I need a snack.
Aminatou: This is a lot. Okay, let's snack and lay on the floor and to all the activists out there who are fighting with other activists we see you and we appreciate you.
Ann: See you in the fight. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know. Please call out anti-Semitism to all the Jewish women out there.
Ann: Please call out anti-black racism.
Aminatou: Thank you. You know, we want to root for everybody but also we don't have to. We're just rooting for freedom. [Laughs] So let's do this. Let's get this freedom.
Ann: 2019, let's get this freedom.
Aminatou: Happy New Year!
Ann: My god.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download the show anywhere you listen to your favs, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, our logos are by Kenesha Sneed, our associate producer is Destry Maria Sibley. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.