There will be not one, but two women’s march events in Manhattan next week.
Women’s March Inc. — the group behind the historic first march in D.C. in 2017 — is holding a rally in Foley Square from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, according to a city Parks Department permit granted Friday.
Meanwhile, the Women’s March Alliance — an unaffiliated local group that has spearheaded events in the city for the last two years — has also secured a permit for Saturday. And their march, near Columbus Circle, will also kick off 11 a.m.
The dueling events are a product of an ugly feud over what and who should be represented in the women’s marches.
The Alliance claims the leaders of Women’s March Inc. have tried to “bully” their way into the Columbus Circle march and trashed the group for a lack of diversity.
Katherine Siemionko, founder and president of the Women’s March Alliance, which developed into a nonprofit two years ago, says she had a less than pleasant conversation with Linda Sarsour, a Women’s March Inc. board member and Palestinian-American racial justice activist this October.
“Linda said ‘You put us on your leadership board or we’ll hold a counter march,'” Siemionko explained. “And I said, ‘I don’t put up with bullying.'”
Siemionko says that Sarsour also implied she wasn’t fit to organize a march for all women because she is white.
Sarsour declined to talk to the Daily News and a spokeswoman for Women’s March Inc. refuted Siemionko’s account of the conversation.
Since the first march two years ago, accusations of anti-Semitism and criticism over connections to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan have soured people’s views of Women’s March Inc.
Sarsour, along with her fellow board members Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, attended a 2015 Washington, D.C., rally organized by Farrakhan, who has said “Hitler was a very great man” and argued Israel is structured “on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your dirty religion.”
Mallory has referred to Farrakhan as “the GOAT,” which stands for “Greatest of All Time,” in an Instagram post that included a photo of herself alongside him. She also attended the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day event last February, along with Sarsour and Perez, where Farrakhan said Jewish people are “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.”
Both Women’s March Inc. and Mallory, who did not respond to a request for comment, have been criticized for being late to respond to the growing backlash and in Mallory’s case, for not properly condemning Farrakhan’s remarks.
Jewish online magazine Tablet last month detailed several other disturbing allegations, including that Mallory, in a November 2016 meeting with founding members of the Women’s March, implied that Jewish people exploit black and brown people. Mallory has denied it. Tablet also reported that Women’s March Inc.used members of the Nation of Islam’s security team, the Fruit of Islam, with Sarsour writing in a Facebook caption, “FOI Brothers, security for the movement.”
A spokeswoman for Women’s March Inc. refutes those allegations.
“The organization and its leaders have dedicated themselves to liberating women from all forms of oppression, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia and Islamophobia,” the group said in a statement to the Daily News.
For this year’s rally, Women’s March Inc. is partnering with the New York Immigration Coalition, where Sarsour was a longtime board member.
Steven Choi, executive director of the NYIC, said his group, “saw an opportunity to elevate immigrant women and ensure representation of our community’s concerns. We’re at a moment right now where both women’s rights and immigrant rights are under constant attack by the Trump administration.”
Sarsour’s involvement was a seen as a positive for Choi.
“She’s long been an activist and advocate on immigrant rights and so when she asked and said that there was this opportunity to really lift up the voices of women of color…we thought that there was an opportunity to partner with them,” he explained.
Choi was not concerned about the allegations of anti-Semitism plaguing Women’s March Inc.
“We condemn racism. We condemn anti-Semitism,” Choi said. “We condemn Louis Farrakan’s hate speech…Our Jewish partners are a key constituency of ours. They’re an essential part of our shared struggle for justice.”
The NYIC also met with Women’s March Alliance and asked about joining forces, but Siemionko’s group declined.
The competing events are promoted on each group’s Facebook page, but Women’s March Inc.’s late planning gave the Women’s March Alliance more traction.
The Alliance page — “Women’s March on NYC (Official)” — had 12,000 people listed as going and 49,000 interested. The national organization’s event — “Women’s March in New York City (Official Chapter)” — had 5,000 people listed as “going” and 25,000 interested before they got their permit.
Several of the Facebook followers for the local Women’s March Inc. effort remained confused even after the location and time were finally announced Thursday.
“What is going on. We have a hotel room near Central Park, where the march is suppose to be held,” wrote Linda Craig Smagner, clearly confusing the downtown rally with the uptown march.
Another user complained that she is already set to leave New York the day before to head to the Washington, D.C., event. “Wish I had known earlier,” she wrote.
Others didn’t understand why there were two separate women’s march events happening in New York City.
Adding to the confusion, Women’s March Inc. initially listed a host for its Big Apple event on its website, then removed it. The group is now promoting Agunda Okeyo — a writer, producer, activist, organizer and director of Women’s March NYC — as the lead host at their rally.
Okeyo told The News that she was at the first women’s march in D.C. and co-founded a New York chapter in fall of 2017.
The environment is her platform this year.
“I’m originally from Kenya, I grew up in the Bronx and I’ve always had a hyper-awareness of nature,” Okeyo says, citing a November climate report released by the U.S. government. “We don’t have a very large amount of time, about five to 10 years in order to make incredibly radical change. The other many issues are political, or you could look at what’s happening in the United States in terms of the excitement of so many women being elected to the House of Representatives.”
She added that “the accusations against the national organization are unfortunate,” and said it’s sad that many of the leaders in local chapters are “interpreted as extensions of the national organization as opposed to being chapters that are part of a network that also have their own unique and individual identities and leadership and points of view.
“We’re just doing this work because we care about our communities and our states and more broadly, things about the environment or what’s happening in terms of America’s relationship with the world,” Okeyo said.
New York City is far from the only location with uncertainty or discontent surrounding this year’s march efforts.
Organizers of Women’s March Chicago, which is not affiliated with Women’s March Inc., decided not to host a rally this year due to high costs and limited volunteers. A leader of that group told the Chicago Tribune that distancing themselves from the controversial national group was a “side benefit” to not marching.
An event in Humboldt County, Calif., was canceled because “participants have been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community,” the group’s Facebook page read.
In upstate New York, Gianni Ortiz, a co-founder of the Jan. 19 Women March On! Hudson, has had to take time away from planning to explain to co-sponsors that her group has no affiliation to the tarnished Women’s March Inc.
“It was a big issue for us,” Ortiz said. “We got asked about it a number of times.”
She hopes the messages of women’s marches — launched after concerns about anti-women and anti-immigration rhetoric and policies following President Trump being elected — will not get lost in all the negativity.
“Trump is still there,” Ortiz said. “That’s a never-ending source of inspiration.”
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