The National Women’s March—Steps Forward for All of Us

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” —Audre Lorde, African American feminist, womanist, and poet

Women took big steps forward on many fronts at the U.S. National Women’s March, in January 2019. Fortunately the issue of anti-Semitism, which played a big role before the march and in the media during the march, did not derail the important messages of the march. The need to fight for all women, all peoples, and social justice; to celebrate female leadership; and to oppose the policies of the present U.S. administration came through loud and clear.  This was a major victory.


Can you imagine being one of the leaders of the biggest mass movement of women of all time? I’m not yet ready to encompass all the challenges, but the question of unity and division stands out.

Where were we united, and where were we divided? How would we reconcile the need to fight for all women, and all people, and at the same time integrate the fight against all oppressions? Would it be possible to stay together with deep differences and disagreements? Many Jewish women stood firm with the idea that we should “stay and fight.” I appreciate Cherie Brown [see the following article] and others for the role they played.

The issue of anti-Semitism among some of the leaders of the march got legitimately raised and at the same time got tangled up with racism toward the women of color leaders. The march did not initially acknowledge anti-Semitism in the list of oppressions, and few Jewish women were able to speak out about it. At the same time, many of us Jews are not yet ready to “call out” [bring attention to]  racism within our own community. Similarly, few in the African American community are ready to call out anti-Semitism. Our alliance still feels too shaky.

The two key women of color leaders of the march (African heritage and Palestinian) apologized, listened to Jewish women of color and white Ashkenazi women, and met with Jewish leaders, including with many rabbis. Some Jewish women of color did not withdraw—staying in coalition and partnership in spite of criticism from their own communities. The historical pitting of anti-Semitism and racism against each other, which has been part of so many progressive movements, was sharply challenged.

More needs to be done about the personal attacks on the women of color leaders. We need to speak up for them, without defending where they still need to grow. And we need to grow as well, in backing [supporting] them among Jews.

I think that underlying all that happened was an understanding of how important women’s power and potential are, particularly in this period of time, and the need to fight together while also recognizing the divisions. There is still confusion and conflict, and divisiveness will reoccur, but right now the victories (which will likely be denied or minimized in much of the press) need to be understood.

Diane Balser

International Liberation
Reference Person for Women

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of Jews


Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:27:13+00