A year after march, women’s activism grows

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Marchers at the 2018 Women’s March in Washington say the grassroots movement spawned by last year’s protest must become more inclusive.
Photo by Mobilus In Mobili / flickr

One year after 500,000 Americans marched on the National Mall for women’s rights, Jewish women activists say that the grassroots crusade initially galvanized by the election of Donald Trump has grown: Not only is it empowering the #MeToo movement and leading a record number of women to seek public office, but it now includes a pro-Israel group of women – women who say feminist voices must include feminist Zionists.

The participation of Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, in the Jan. 21, 2017, march was problematic for some Jewish women.


“Last year [at the women’s march] I was with my mom and husband and we were suddenly surrounded by chants of ‘free Palestine,’” said Washington resident Amanda Herring, 28.

“I didn’t want my message to be overshadowed, so I started another chant, ‘This is what democracy looks like.’ You’re afraid someone’s going to get in a horrible argument with you.”

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Last Saturday, Herring, joined a group of women Zionists for the anniversary march in Washington. They were part of a new group called Zioness, which says that feminists should welcome pro-Israel Jews. She said that before hearing about Zioness, she was considering not attending this year’s march.

“The [women’s] movement is really making a good turn, but some people want to co-opt the movement for their own goals that have nothing to do with what’s happening in U.S. politics right now,” she said. “It’s dividing the movement, not making it stronger.”


Democratic strategist Ann Lewis, who led the Washington contingent of Zioness on Saturday, said the Zioness organization fills one of the gaps at the 2017 march.

“There was so much conversation within the Jewish community, and the reality was that Zionists were missing in this conversation,” she said.

Lewis said she hopes others realize that Zionist women have the same goals as other women when it comes to pay equity and other issues related to gender equality.

“Saying you can’t be a Zionist and a feminist goes beyond ruffling feathers,” she said. “I think it is hateful language.”

Last year, Jewish women’s groups differed on the participation of Sarsour, the Palestinian activist and march organizer.

Sarsour’s embrace of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel has created conflicting feelings among some progressive Jews who are supportive of the women’s movement and Israel. Her presence at least year’s march was the one fly in the ointment for some — but not all — women.

Jody Rabhan, the director of Washington operations for the National Council of Jewish Women, a sponsor of the 2017 Women’s March and who worked with Sarsour to organize the 2017 march, said she had no problem with the Palestinian activist’s involvement.

“We had a seat at the table, we had access to Linda, and it was perfectly great. There were no issues related to Israel that would be cause for alarm. It couldn’t have been a more inclusive event for the Jews,” she said.

“I thought that the 2017 march was a place for many women of many ages, to bring with them the portfolio of issues and really take power from that, and I felt that no one owned this march,” said Lori Weinstein, the CEO of Jewish Women International.

“It belonged to everyone that was there. But I respect that other people made other decisions, and I understand that it’s very complicated for some people.”

Another Zioness marcher, Stephanie Black, said she wants others to know that people can be both Zionist and progressive.

“There are definitely flaws in the movement, but I don’t think there’s ever such thing as a perfect movement,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a perfect person or leader.”

Black, a 21-year old junior at American University, said her experience with anti-Israel progressives started during her freshman year.

Thousands attend the second annual women’s march on Washington on Jan. 21. Its goals were to turn out more women to vote in the November elections and elect more women to office. Photo by Dan Schere.

“I had a roommate who, although we agreed on pretty much every other issue, she would harass me and ask me what my views were on Israel, and when will I denounce my views on Israel?” she said.

Black ultimately moved out of her dorm room.
The march’s signature pink hats haven’t faded away – they’ve been thrown into the ring.

Seventy-nine women entered gubernatorial races in 2017, according to Time. Another 374 are running for seats in the House of Representatives this year. Last November, 11 of the 15 new Democrats elected to the Virginia House of Delegates were women, including the commonwealth’s first openly transgender woman, Danica Roem (D-District 13).

Rabhan pointed to a sold-out women’s conference in Detroit focusing on the 2018 elections as an indication that the movement is gaining steam with efforts to place increasing numbers of women in roles of increasing power.

“What the march last year did was ignite a wave of women’s activism,” said Lewis, who served as communications director for President Bill Clinton. “One year later, we have seen women get into the political system as candidates and as policymakers. The emphasis is on working through the political system.”

The 2017 march was the beginning of a long-term movement said Weinstein. But to be successful, the gains of the last year must translate into election victories and an overall shift in the power dynamic in workplaces that puts women in more positions of power.

“What we are all realizing is that we’re not just in it for the ride, but we’re in it for the long haul,” she said. “This is more than a demonstration, it’s a movement.”

Last weekend’s anniversary marches in cities across the United States, including Washington, featured the hashtag #PowerToThePolls, to encourage more women to vote in November’s midterm elections.

“We heard so much about, ‘the resistance movement has worn out,’” Rabhan said. “But that hasn’t happened.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Many of the speakers at the 2017 were anti-Israel activists who used the event to spread their ‘narrative’ that the Palestinians are helpless, innocent victims. Angela Davis stated “Women’s rights are human rights all over the planet and that is why we say freedom and justice for Palestine” and also “…to guarantee the accessibility of water from the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux, to Flint, Michigan, to the West Bank and Gaza.” Although Davis did not specifically mention “Israel,” her anti-Israel message was loud and clear. Her ‘academic’ writings are full of distortions, selective omissions, and unsupported accusations. The 2017 event was clearly about turning the US Feminist movement into an anti-Israel weapon.

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