August 20, 2019

I Want the Women’s March to Succeed

People gather for the Women's March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

I am a privileged white man and an avowed centrist. As such, I want the Women’s March to succeed.

I want to support a movement committed to reforming politics, culture and society. Over the years, young women at USC and UC Berkeley, where I teach, and many others throughout the country have been victimized by teachers, employers and fellow students. They have watched as powerful administrators made excuses for those transgressors. These brave women have not only persevered but fought back so that they can work, learn and live without having to fear the potential threats of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault.

In a world changing far too slowly from the rules prescribed by Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, these women are smart enough to realize that these indignities aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. But they are also determined enough to keep fighting so that their daughters and granddaughters can live in a world without those fears.

These courageous young women deserve to be heard. They deserve to march. But they shouldn’t be forced to choose whether to march with people who hate Jews or with people who make excuses for people who hate Jews. 

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his defenders decided long ago that the Jewish people are less than human. No one who makes it into the fifth paragraph of a column like this needs to be reminded what Tamika Mallory, the national Women’s March co-president, has said about our community and the Jewish homeland, or the lengths she went to last week to avoid criticizing Farrakhan. People like her deserve to be held accountable, and then to be ostracized and marginalized. Instead, they are permitted to hold leadership positions of a laudable and necessary movement. The result has been to allow them to pollute that movement and to undermine its efforts.

“Let’s just agree that racists, bigots and anti-Semites — regardless of party registration — don’t get to march with us anymore.”

After two years of pretending that the leaders of the Women’s March were not anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic, this past fall the ugliness from Mallory and her compatriots became too obvious to ignore. The reaction from our community was a confusing but somewhat encouraging mix of oral and written responses, alternative marches and intersectional hand-wringing. 

Many courageous women from across the country took steps to separate themselves from Mallory and her fellow haters. Others in our community — somewhat more conflicted and perhaps less courageous — found reasons to justify their participation in, and implicitly sanctify, those gatherings. March leaders in Los Angeles promised to remove the anti-Semitic screeds from their program. As my new hero, Rabbi Nicole Guzik has recounted in these pages, the March leaders lied. 

So what do we do now? The question of when and how it is permissible to collaborate with anti-Semites and their apologists is too important to be answered in a rush over the days and weeks before such high-profile events. Better to start working immediately on next year’s marches to ensure that there is no more room for those who hate Jews than there is for those who would objectify, denigrate or assault our daughters and granddaughters.

Voices of intolerance on the right must be condemned just as forcefully, of course. But until the overall climate in our society becomes more accepting and mutually respectful, it may be necessary to recognize that, for now, the Women’s March is primarily for those with left and center-left political allegiances.

The unrepentant centrist in me would love to see a Women’s March with room for liberals and conservatives. A truly unifying march could make a tremendous impact to create a better and safer world for women and for the men who honor and respect them. Unfortunately, this country’s politics have become far too balkanized for such unity to occur in the public square anytime soon. 

So, for today, let’s just agree that racists, bigots and anti-Semites — regardless of party registration — don’t get to march with us anymore. And that next year, we can march more effectively and more inspirationally without including them.

Dan Schnur teaches political communications and leadership at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.