August 20, 2019

Women’s March LA and D.C. Women’s March, Inc. Aren’t the Same Org

Saba Soomekh, American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles Assistant Director (left) with Emiliana Guereca, Executive Director of Women's March Los Angeles (right) Photo courtesy of the American Jewish Committee

For those on the fence about whether to participate in the upcoming Women’s March Los Angeles on Jan. 19, Women’s March Los Angeles (WMLA) Co-founder and Executive Director Emiliana Guereca explained at a recent meeting with L.A. Jewish community leaders, that people should attend because WMLA is not affiliated in any way with Women’s March, Inc. (the D.C.-based organization).

At issue is the ongoing controversy surrounding the Women’s March, Inc.’s leadership, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ remarks made by Louis Farrakhan and the refusal by two of the organization’s leaders — Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory — to condemn Farrakhan’s statements.

Last week, the Los Angeles Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) hosted an open discussion on the issue with prominent Jewish community leaders and Guereca.

Guereca reiterated a written statement by WMLA that makes it clear they are separate organizations and that WMLA does not share leadership, structure or funding with Women’s March, Inc. and has no input in Women’s March, Inc.’s leadership or decision-making.
In addition, WMLA stated it “strongly denounces [Farrakhan’s] statements and recognizes the pain they have caused for the Jewish and LGBTQIA+ communities.”

Saba Soomekh, AJC Los Angeles assistant director, told the 13 women and five men in attendance, which included representatives from Sinai Temple, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Leo Baeck Temple, Valley Beth Shalom, Stephen Wise Temple, Congregation Kol Ami, Zioness, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), JQ International, 30 Years After, and Jumpstart, that an “important timely conversation,” was needed. 

“Jewish women should not have to leave their identity and values at the door to join the women’s rights movement,” Soomekh said. “Our view is that we can proudly be Jewish, Zionist and feminist at the same time.”

“I think the media really fed us a concocted ‘Colors of Benetton’ picture: a Muslim, black, Latina and white woman all together. That worked for the march but for a movement it doesn’t work.” — Emiliana Guereca

Guereca spoke passionately about how she, together with WMLA Co-founder  Deena Katz, wanted to create WMLA because as a Jewish and Latina woman, she feared that both communities may get left out of the bigger D.C.-based movement. 

She added that, at the time, they started organizing the march, they had no idea WMLA would also grow into a movement. “We are continuing as a movement but we are not part of a national organization,” she explained, adding WMLA was the first to incorporate as a nonprofit on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the national election. 

Back then, Guereca and Katz helped organize 20 marches in California, “and we found [then] the D.C. team was problematic in its relationships and its rhetoric.” She added that WMLA has voiced its concerns to the D.C. organization and has tried to work with it to become a national organization with chapters across the nation but to date has not managed to do so.

The sticking point still appears to be the perception that the marches around the country are all under the D.C. March umbrella. Asked why this is the case, Guereca said, “I think the media really fed us a concocted ‘Colors of Benetton’ picture: a Muslim, black, Latina and white woman all together. That worked for the march but for a movement, it doesn’t work.”

When asked if the marches are different then why is everyone using the same marketing and branding logo, Guereca said WMLA has filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement against the D.C. organization.

“We want them to change their branding,” she said. “The logo was put forth by a volunteer and put in public domain to be used by anyone organizing as a women’s march. We did not put forth that logo to look unified [as an organization].”

Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami was the first in the room to openly and profusely thank Guereca for agreeing to the meeting. “I think this is really courageous of you to meet with all of us,” she said, “and I’m grateful the local march has distanced itself in word and deed [from Women’s March, Inc.].

Eger then added that she wanted to address the issue of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist language that had been used at previous local marches by WMLA speakers, although she added she did not hold WMLA accountable. 

Guereca said there always have been guidelines in place for speakers but that the issue had been that the anti-Israel remarks and what she called “hate speech” had come from those who were not officially selected to speak but had been passed the microphone by speakers on the roster.

Going forward, Guereca said, “We’ve spoken to our staging company where we’ll have ‘Golden Globe’ music come on and we have figured out you can’t hand the microphone to someone else who is not scheduled to speak. We either stand for all women or we stand for no one. We can’t tolerate hate speech toward anyone.” 

When asked if Guereca shouldn’t be putting herself forward more, as a Jewish and Latina woman leading WMLA, the way Sarsour and Mallory are seen as leaders, Guereca said, “I have a full-time job. [Her WMLA position is a volunteer position.] We had to hire a crisis PR management team. We were kicked out of our previous offices because we had people protesting outside. I have small kids. We don’t have 24-hour security like [Sarsour] does. Do I want to live my life that way? Absolutely not.”

However, Guereca said WMLA is still working toward creating a national organization and believes that ultimately the four women leading Women’s March, Inc. will step down. “I think there has to be room for them to step down because I think the further you push them against the wall there’s going to be a fight.”

There needs to be the ability to craft a dignified departure for these women, she said, because that’s how a nonprofit board should run. “And that’s part of a conversation we’re having with [Women’s March, Inc.’s] COO about the possibility of a graceful exit [for them].”

A women’s movement — not just marches — continues to be the goal, Guereca said. “It’s time to bring in board members and build [the movement] up. If that doesn’t happen, the organization will go down in flames because there is no way it can withstand another crisis.”