On Nov. 12, 2016, a group of seven women held a meeting in New York. They had never worked together before—in fact, most of them had never met—but they were brought together by what felt like the shared vision of an emerging mission.
There were effectively two different cohorts that day. The first one included Breanne Butler, Karen Waltuch, Vanessa Wruble and Mari Lynn Foulger—a fashion designer turned entrepreneur with a sideline in activist politics, who had assumed the nom de guerre Bob Bland. These four were new acquaintances who had connected in the days since Donald Trump’s election, through political networking on social media. Most of them had filtered through the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group, where a woman in Hawaii named Teresa Shook had days before floated the idea of a female-centered march to protest the incoming administration.
Soon after, Wruble—a Washington, D.C., native who founded OkayAfrica, a digital media platform dedicated to new African music, culture, and politics, with The Roots’ Questlove—reached out to a man she knew named Michael Skolnik. The subject of a New York Times profile the previous year as an “influencer” at the nexus of social activism and celebrity, Skolnik held a powerful though not easily defined role in the world of high-profile activist politics. “It’s very rare to have one person who everyone respects in entertainment, or in politics, or among the grass roots,” said Van Jones, in a 2015 New York Times piece. “But to have one person who’s respected by all three? There isn’t anyone but Michael Skolnik.”
When Wruble relayed her concern that the nascent women’s movement had to substantively include women of color, Skolnik told her he had just the women for her to meet: Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory. These were recommendations Skolnik could vouch for personally. In effect, he was connecting Wruble to the leadership committee of his own nonprofit—a group called The Gathering for Justice, where he and Mallory sat on the board of directors, and Perez served as the executive director.
In an email to Tablet, Skolnik confirmed this account of the group’s origins. “A few days after the election, I was contacted by Vanessa Wruble, who I have known for many years, asking for help with The Women’s March and specifically with including women of color in leadership,” he wrote. “I recommended that she speak with Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, also who I have known for years.”
Linda Sarsour, another colleague from The Gathering for Justice network, was not present for these initial meetings but joined the Women’s March as a co-chair a short time later.
“There were other activists that I reached out to, who didn’t end up getting involved as prominently as those women,” Wruble told Tablet recently, adding that the primary goal for her at that point was clear, and simple: “I was very focused on making sure the voices of marginalized women were included in the leadership of whatever we were about to create.”
In advance of the meeting, Bland suggested they convene in Chelsea Market, an upscale food court in Manhattan. When the day arrived, the women managed to find each other but soon realized that there was nowhere in the hectic, maze-like hall of vendors quiet enough to sit and talk. Eventually, they retreated to the rooftop of a nearby hotel where, less than a week after the idea for a march sprouted, the seven women got acquainted.
According to several sources, it was there—in the first hours of the first meeting for what would become the Women’s March—that something happened that was so shameful to many of those who witnessed it, they chose to bury it like a family secret. Almost two years would pass before anyone present would speak about it.
It was there that, as the women were opening up about their backgrounds and personal investments in creating a resistance movement to Trump, Perez and Mallory allegedly first asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people—and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade. These are canards popularized by The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, a book published by Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam—“the bible of the new anti-Semitism,” according to Henry Louis Gates Jr., who noted in 1992: “Among significant sectors of the black community, this brief has become a credo of a new philosophy of black self-affirmation.”
To this day, Mallory and Bland deny any such statements were ever uttered, either at the first meeting or at Mallory’s apartment. “There was a particular conversation around how white women had centered themselves—and also around the dynamics of racial justice and why it was essential that racial justice be a part of the women’s rights conversation,” remembered Bland. But she and Mallory insisted it never had anything to do with Jews. “Carmen and I were very clear at that [first] meeting that we would not take on roles as workers or staff, but that we had to be in a leadership position in order for us to engage in the march,” Mallory told Tablet, in an interview last week, adding that they had been particularly sensitive to the fact that they had been invited to the meeting by white women, and wanted to be sure they weren’t about to enter into an unfair arrangement. “Other than that, there was no particular conversation about Jewish women, or any particular group of people.”
Six of the seven women in attendance would not speak openly to Tablet about the meeting, but multiple sources with knowledge of what happened confirmed the story. Following an initial 30-minute phone call last week with Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland, Tablet submitted a detailed list of follow-up questions to the group by email and received a written response. Answers from both exchanges are quoted at length in this article.*
As its fame grew, so did the questions about the Women’s March’s origin story—including, at first privately within the inner circles of the organizations, questions pertaining to the possible anti-Jewish statement made at that very first meeting. And that wasn’t the only incident from the initial encounter that would have far-reaching consequences. Within a few months of the original marches, key figures who came from outside or stood apart from the inner circle of the Justice League, an initiative of The Gathering for Justice, left the organization. And many of those involved began questioning why it was that, among the many women of various backgrounds interested in being involved in the March’s earliest days, power had consolidated in the hands of leadership who all had previous ties to one another; who were all roughly the same age; who would praise a man who has argued that it’s women’s responsibility to dress modestly so as to avoid tempting men; and, at least in one case, who defended Bill Cosby as the victim of a conspiracy.
The questions started to be more practical, as well. At some point during that very first meeting in Chelsea, Perez suggested that the Justice League’s parent entity, The Gathering for Justice—where she, Mallory, and Skolnik all had roles—set up a “fiscal sponsorship” over the Women’s March to handle its finances. A fiscal sponsorship is a common arrangement in the nonprofit sector that allows more established organizations to finance newer ventures as they get off the ground and find their own funding. In this case, though, the standard logic didn’t apply since the Women’s March would, from its inception, raise vastly more money than its sponsor ever had. Over time, new details of the Women’s March’s organizational structure have been dragged into public view that reveal complicated financial arrangements, confusing even to experts.
Yet within no time, the March leaders would be named 2017 Women of the Year by Glamour magazine. There was a glossy book published with Condé Nast, a lucrative merchandise business selling branded Women’s March gear, and millions of dollars raised through individual donations and institutional funding from major organizations like Planned Parenthood and the powerful hospital workers union, 1199SEIU. Fortune magazine named Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Perez, and Bland to its list of the World’s Greatest Leaders, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand—in explaining why these four were on Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People—wrote: “The Women’s March was the most inspiring and transformational moment I’ve ever witnessed in politics … and it happened because four extraordinary women—Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour—had the courage to take on something big, important and urgent, and never gave up.” In conclusion, the senator declared, “these women are the suffragists of our time.”
But in fact, according to many involved in the January 2017 marches, Gillibrand’s description wasn’t just over the top; it undermined and erased the very people actually doing the work to create female-centric voting blocs throughout the country. “To be fair, the Women’s March on Washington—the one I was involved with at the time—had no real connection to the many marches that took place across the country and globally that month,” said Wruble, in an interview with Tablet. “Local leaders, often first-time organizers, spearheaded marches in their own communities. Many used the branding we put out as open source and helped to make the marches look unified—which was certainly advantageous in creating the sense of a singular, massive movement—but they were the ones who did the real work.”
The Women’s March leaders have often dismissed their critics as right wing or driven by racism, but over the past two months their fiercest challengers have come from within their own shop—with women of color, and their own local organizers, often leading the pack. As of this article’s publication, numerous state chapters have broken off from the national organization—notably Houston, Washington, D.C., Alabama, Rhode Island, Florida, Portland, Illinois, Barcelona, Canada, and Women’s March GLOBAL.*
Mercy Morganfield, a longtime activist and daughter of blues legend Muddy Waters, has been one of the leading voices in calling for accountability from the co-chairs. For Morganfield, a former spokesperson for the Women’s March who also ran the D.C. branch, the various problems that people have had with the Women’s March—ideological, managerial, fiscal—should be seen as all of a piece. She recalled being startled earlier this year when Mallory—already a nationally recognized leader of the Women’s March—showed up at the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day event. “When all of that went down, it was my last straw,” she told Tablet. “You are part of a national movement that is about the equality of women and you are sitting in the front row listening to a man say women belong in the kitchen and you’re nodding your head saying amen! I told them over and over again: It’s fine to be religious, but there is no place for religion in its radical forms inside of a national women’s movement with so many types of women. It spoke to their inexperience and inability to hold this at a national stage. That is judgment, and you can’t teach judgment.”
The development of the origins of the Women’s March and its transformation into a vehicle that promoted a small coterie of women—three of whom bizarrely professed their admiration for the openly anti-Semitic, homophobic, and misogynistic Nation of Islam preacher Louis Farrakhan—was a deliberate act, one that had nothing to do with the general spirit out of which the March was born.
I guess they should have been more careful about the allies they chose. Trump hatred blinds them to the flaws of their cohorts and dangers of their entanglements. Leftists connected with anti-Semites is nothing new or unusual, though.
Lefties keep doing this.
They gather their “usual suspects” to lead their latest org, then it starts out looking pretty strong.
But sooner, rather than later, it falls apart as each of the string-pullers’ puppets see that they are being used and not the real leaders after all.
Saw it with Occupy Wall Street.
Saw it with Black Lives Matter.
See it here with the “Women’s March.”
Looking at the Left’s sausage-making of this org was tedious and gossipy.
However, it shows that the women’s March was the least secretive of most recent Lefty attempts to put useful idiots in harm’s way in the string-pullers’ behalf.
For that, the writer deserves kudos.
Everything the left touches dies, the womens movement hasn’t had a single gain for women since the baby murders took over.
Boyscouts now dead https://www.redstate.com/brandon_morse/2018/12/13/boy-scouts-filing-bankruptcy-string-woke-decisions-caused-go-broke/
@kitt: Everything the left touches dies, ……
Boyscouts now dead https://www.redstate.com/brandon_morse/2018/12/13/boy-scouts-filing-bankruptcy-string-woke-decisions-caused-go-broke/
The Left thought parents had no other choice.
But 20% of all Boy Scout money as well as 20% of all Boy Scouts had been from Utah Mormons.
Utah’s Mormons immediately pulled their sons out of the BSA and created a Mormon equivalent.
Also Scout camps have been systematically pulled from being BSA only to being Mormon only.
That’s a lot of camps as you drive thru any of Utah’s huge parks you would see.
@Nan G: No doubt the left wanted to kill off the BSA. The Scouts in Britain were on Hitler’s list of organizations to do away with when he conquered England, so they are just completing the original fascist plan.