Response to The New York Time’s Op-Ed, “When Progressives Embrace Hate”, Expanded Version

Image of four Women’s March co-chairs (Bob Bland, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory) standing lined up with other marchers during the NRA2DOJ March (Credit: Kyle O’Leary)

The election of Donald Trump was a wake up call. It revealed to so many of us an American dystopia that marginalized communities have endured + fought against for generations.

Before organizing the Women’s March on Washington alongside my fellow co-chairs, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory, I had often posted on online about social justice issues, but had never seriously considered hitting the streets of Ferguson or seeking concrete justice for Eric Garner. Yet when Occupy Wall Street took over Zuccotti Park, I figured out a way to be there in solidarity, despite wrangling a nine-month-old baby, because we were living on a tenuous single income and couldn’t afford groceries.

For us, the connection between sociopathic hedge fund partners and the billionaire real estate developers displacing local families was clear. I tell this story because it’s common for most of us to only stand up for issues that directly impact us, and that has to change.

The recently published New York Times op-ed, “When Progressives Embrace Hate,” perpetuates a flawed narrative that is dangerous for many reasons, most fundamentally because it threatens to divide and distract us. It frames challenging discussions that this movement must continue to embrace- conversations about struggle and liberation, about inclusion and understanding — as hateful or taboo.

The writer is recklessly endorsing a sensationalized alt-right attack on my fellow co-chairs that aims to discredit the Women’s March movement, our leaders, and to derail the progress we have collectively made since January. Her piece is a misleading distraction at a critical moment where rights are being stripped from vulnerable communities every day.

The Women’s March has always been about coming together for each other’s collective liberation and not just showing up for issues that directly affect us. We are a movement made up of many people with different opinions, ideas and experiences. We build consensus, we inspire people to action to defend the rights of the most marginalized and in the process we don’t always have to agree.

As a cis-hetero white woman new to feminist activism, there certainly have been times throughout the process of planning the March that were uncomfortable, times when we fought, and times that even with as much empathy as I could muster, I couldn’t relate to someone else’s point of view. That is the nature of a movement that is as inclusive and intersectional as ours, and discomfort is often necessary for growth. It is because of these differences, not in spite of them, that I stand in solidarity with Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.

What we are seeing is an attempt for well-heeled “fauxgressive” people to line up and perpetuate a right-wing narrative about who Carmen, Linda and Tamika are. They are leaving out 99 percent of the picture to only zoom in on a few facts that have the power to potentially fracture important coalitions between historically oppressed groups, while at the same time making privileged white folks uncomfortable.

Make no mistake, this is nothing new. This is ineffectual white feminism again stepping in to self-righteously attack and to diminish the status of women of color. It is worth noting that the author of the New York Times op-ed, like so many of Women’s March’s critics from the right, only sought to smear the three women of color at the helm of Women’s March — leaving me, the one white woman co-chair, unquestioned. The National Rifle Association made the same tactical choice several weeks ago when going after Women’s March.

I question why our critics are so quick to discredit women of color leaders, and gloss over the involvement of less convenient targets like myself. Rest assured, I am just as imperfect as the next politically engaged person, if not more so, because I’m relatively new to the work.

The same goes for our movement. We are imperfect, and so is this country and democracy that we love. It is uncompassionate and unjust to criticize women of color for supporting the freedom, human rights and the liberation of their communities. It is ignorant of the realities they live and organize in.

Propagating this mentality not only distracts us from our common enemy- Trump’s oppressive policies and agendas — at a critical moment where rights are being stripped from communities every day, but it also takes us further from having the conversations necessary to understand each other. The stakes are too high to succumb to the kind of divisions that have cost the progressive movement its influence and conviction, again and again.

The Women’s March united over five million people across the world to demonstrate the collective power of women to create transformative social change. And while you may not agree with one of us or any of us, that’s okay. But together we are weaving the social fabric so desperately needed to protect each other as the Trump agenda advances.

We are a movement that brought white women to the streets of D.C. to demand justice on behalf of Philando Castile and brought Black women to airports across the country to protest the Muslim ban. A movement that has helped inspire more women to run for office than ever before.

We welcome the opportunity to have these daring discussions. We are not ashamed or afraid to say that the Women’s March stands for something different — for listening to each other, for understanding the struggle for liberation that our sisters face, and having uncomfortable talks to bridge gaps in understanding. In fact, we believe these conversations are paramount to maintaining a strong movement powerful enough to continue to resist our current administration.

We are a movement grounded in love for all people, but especially for the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized. For now, critics like this author are just critics from their seats. Until they get up, listen and do the work to understand those whose feelings have been shaped by injustices in this country, they are apologists for the status quo, racist ideology, and the white nationalist patriarchy.

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