Schism leads to dueling women’s march events in NYC

NEW YORK (AP) — Conflicts over control, inclusivity and alleged anti-Semitism will mean that women protesting on the second anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington are faced with competing demonstrations this weekend in New York City.

One procession, around the edge of Central Park and down Sixth Avenue, is being organized by the Women’s March Alliance, a nonprofit group whose leaders are putting on their version of the demonstration for the third straight year.

Another event, a downtown rally held at roughly the same time Saturday, is being organized by the New York City chapter of Women’s March Inc., the group formed to help organize the 2017 demonstration in Washington, D.C., the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Talks between organizers aimed at linking the groups in New York didn’t go anywhere, the reasons varying between overstepping and indifference depending on who’s asked. And hanging overhead that has been a controversy playing out nationwide of concerns related to race and religion.

Women’s March Inc. co-leader Tamika Mallory, who is black, has come under her fire from Jewish groups for her support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known partly for his anti-Semitic rhetoric and condemnations of homosexuality.

The criticism dates back months but got additional attention after Mallory appeared Monday on ABC’s “The View” and, while disavowing Farrakhan’s language, wouldn’t condemn him when confronted by hosts Meghan McCain and Sunny Hostin.

Some Jewish groups have pulled support for Women’s March Inc. A Washington state chapter disbanded in protest. In November, Teresa Shook, the Hawaiian woman whose viral Facebook post is credited with launching the original Women’s March, called on Mallory and her co-chairwomen Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Bob Bland to resign.

“They have allowed anti-Semitism, anti- LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs,” she wrote.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sarsour acknowledged “valid criticism” that the organization had been “delayed in our unequivocal response in denouncing anti-Semitism.” But she said it was part of the growth process in building a movement comprised of many different groups of people. “We believe in this movement.”

Katherine Siemionko, the white, former Goldman Sachs vice president who leads the Women’s March Alliance, told the AP that the charges of anti-Semitism were “just an additional on top of all the behavior, on top of the ego” while not the main issue dividing the women’s march events in New York.

Friction between Siemionko’s organization and the national group began last year, when a New York chapter of the national Women’s March group, led by Agunda Okeyo, a writer and activist born in Nairobi, began to plan events around the 2019 march anniversary.

Sarsour said she reached out to Siemionko to see if her group and Okeyo’s group could work together. Sarsour said she wanted to make sure the concerns of immigrant and minority women were heard in New York City protest efforts.

The two women differ on what happened next.

Siemionko said Sarsour was insistent that Okeyo’s group needed to be involved in planning the city’s march. Siemionko described the national group as “bullies.”

“If you wanted to be a coalition, you would never host a counter-event,” Siemionko said. “Why would you do that?”

Sarsour denied that account.

“I am not a threatening person. I came in as a mediator,” she said. Sarsour said Siemionko told them she’d check with her board, but then never got back to her, with the end result that both events are moving forward separately.

The leaders of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a Reform Judaism congregation in Manhattan, urged its members to take part in the uptown march, affiliated with Siemionko’s group. Rabbi Samantha Natov said she still has problems with the Women’s March Inc.'s reaction to allegations of anti-Semitism.

“The leadership has not assuaged our most serious concerns,” she said.

But Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, said her group would be out with some other Jewish organizations at the downtown rally organized by Okeyo’s group, Women’s March NYC.

Women’s March Inc. leaders have “apologized for the harm that they have caused and we are taking those apologies and the actions they have taken to include Jews ... seriously,” Vilkomerson said.

There is also a third event in the city at 2 p.m. Saturday, the Non-March for Disabled Women at Grand Central Terminal. That event is being put together by Rise and Resist, with co-sponsorship by Okeyo’s Women’s March group.