October 20, 2019

The Process to Replace Leadership of Women’s March Was a Sham

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

The announcement in today’s Washington Post that Women’s March co-chairs Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Bob Bland will no longer serve on the board is only part of the story. The other part is that the process to replace them has been a sham.

Before highly-controversial Sarsour, Mallory and Bland even began the process to find their replacements, they already had overstayed their official term, violating their organization’s bylaws. What followed was an undemocratic, opaque process, with some local Women’s March organizers thinking the previous co-chairs would handpick the new board.

“I’m sure it’s going to be all internal, and they will put in their own people or reelect themselves,” Angie Beem, president of the Washington state chapter, told The Jewish Journal after the announcement.

 In fact, one of the new board members, Zahara Billoo, who runs the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco office, has compared Israeli soldiers to ISIS terrorists, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and has written that being pro-Israel is being “pro-terror, pro-violence, pro-land theft, and pro-apartheid.”

Sarsour first announced to Women’s March organizers that it was time to step down six months ago. The Post reports the trio officially stepped down on July 15, although they did not announce it publicly nor update the website.

The original Women’s March, Inc. bylaws, which were written when the first board was solidified in 2017, stipulate leaders must step down and be reelected every two years. However, it was weeks after the co-chairs’ term had ended when the organization began its search for new board members.

As you may know, Women’s March board has two-year terms, and we are now approaching the end of this first board term,” wrote Sarsour in an email to Women’s March state and local level chapter leaders, co-signed by Chief Operating Officer Rachel Carmona. The letter, entitled “Women’s March Board Transition Update” was sent March 21, 2019, by a source connected to Women’s March, Inc. and was reviewed by The Jewish Journal.

“We have officially opened the process for the 2019-2021 board to shape the next phase of our work,” wrote Sarsour and Carmona, attaching a Women’s March board application. “This open process will include a formal application and review by a board nomination and selection committee, comprised primarily of members of the 2019 March Steering Committee who volunteered to be part of this process.”

“Founders have one rotating seat & Carmen is in it,” Sarsour tweeted after the announcement of the new board, referencing how Carmen Perez will stay on the board of the organization. However, nowhere in the bylaws of Women’s March, Inc. is a rotating seat for founders mentioned. “This AMAZING group of women stepped up, most of whom I worked w/ YEARS before WM,” Sarsour wrote.

Sarsour, Perez, Bland and Mallory were not elected into leadership

“The initial directors shall be those persons whose names and addresses are set forth in the Certificate of Incorporation and they shall serve until the next meeting of members at which directors are elected and until the election and qualification of their successors,” specifies Article I of Women’s March, Inc. bylaws.

Scandals have plagued leadership under Sarsour, Mallory, Bland and Perez, including support of those espousing anti-Semitic stances. More than 10,000 people signed a petition demanding they step down from Women’s March, Inc. Teresa Shook, the founder of the movement, has called for them to resign over their missteps with Jewish and LGBTQ women.

The controversy began when Mallory faced criticism for sitting on stage with Louis Farrakhan as he declared “the powerful Jews are my enemy.” Perez, who will remain on the board, has posed holding hands with Louis Farrakhan on Instagram. Sarsour also is associated with Farrkhan; she delivered a speech at a 2015 rally organized by him in his celebration.

In 2019, 100,000 attended the official Washington D.C. Women’s March – 400,000 less than who showed up into 2017. Since its founding in 2017, the organization has lost the majority of its partners; over 287 organizations have pulled support from Women’s March Inc. including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Emily’s List, the Human Rights Campaign and the Democratic Party.

Currently, only 10 chapters remain officially affiliated with Women’s March, Inc.

Three weeks after the email regarding a shift in leadership, Women’s March, Inc. sent out affiliate agreements to other march groups. It promised “Women’s March, Inc. will ensure that there is at least a minimum of two board seats reserved for Women’s March Chapter representation,” which “individual WM Chapter organizers can self-nominate and WM Chapters will then vote based upon their geographic area for the desired WM Chapter board rep.”

However, this directly contradicts the letter Sarsour and Carmona sent, who wrote the new leaders will be selected by the Steering Committee, which was handpicked by the board, not local organizers. There was no mention of a democratic process.

These agreements seemingly offered local marches a voice in leadership, and operated more like a cease-and-desist letter rather than an opportunity to have a voice in the upcoming elections.

Miranda Marquit, lead organizer of Women’s March of Idaho Falls, told The Jewish Journal that up to this point, all it took to be affiliated with Women’s March, Inc. was to list your march on its website. She confirmed that although it is listed on the website, Idaho is no longer affiliated with Women’s March, Inc.

“While the controversy surrounding this year’s march has some influence, the biggest thing is that we’re considering changing the format to do something more locally focused,” Marquit explained. She noted all Women’s March, Inc. provided its affiliates was an eight-page “Sister March Guide” and an invitation to an occasional conference call.

When asked how often she gets email invitations to the Women’s March calls, Marquit says, “I honestly just delete them without opening them.”

The agreement, sent out March 25, stated that if local marches do not affiliate, they must cease all use of the WM emblems within five days and immediately remove the name “Women’s March” from the chapter’s assumed name, domain names and social media accounts. It also asserts that non-affiliated marches must cease selling “Women’s March” merchandise, which funds grassroots activism.

Women’s March, Inc. also requires its affiliates do not “challenge the validity or ownership of any of the WM emblems,” which includes the term “Women’s March.” 

This is unusual, given that the Women’s March already gave up its legal claim to trademark the term “Women’s March,” which 14 other organizations disputed they owned in court.

Even odder was that Women’s March, Inc. not only sent out the draft affiliate agreements to groups with whom they wanted to solidify their partnership, but also to sporadic activist groups with the name “Women’s March” − even those that had no ties with it.

A leader of a large Women’s March group in California confirmed to The Jewish Journal that it had received the affiliate agreement, even though the chapter has openly divorced itself from Women’s March, Inc. and is affiliated with Los Angeles-based Women’s March Foundation.

In exchange for affiliation, Women’s March, Inc. offers online training, public relations support, amplification of local actions on its social media pages, web support and access to “network-wide communications platforms like Slack.” 

The organization did not offer to distribute any of its funding to grassroots organizers who sign on with it. In contrast, March On, a competing women’s march organization, has given 19 percent of its total funding directly to affiliates, investing approximately $250,000 in local groups, March On told The Jewish Journal.

In July, Samia Assed, who runs the New Mexico Women’s March told The Jewish Journal she has not received any funding or organizing resources from the parent organization, but Carmen Perez once came and spoke at a meeting.

Assed said she would sign the agreement because “I won’t splinter the movement. I won’t weaken it.” However, she had problems with the leadership. “Do I believe Linda and Tamika are anti-Semitic? No. Do I think they acted stupidly? Yes.”

In September it was announced she had joined the Women’s March Inc. board.

For many local chapters, not having a say in major decisions is a deal breaker.

“I don’t see how there will be an election when we have no say in anything they do. I don’t know how they would do the vote,” Beem said of the new board’s selection process. “If we had that kind of power, we could have voted them out. But it takes the board members to vote out a board member, and you know none of them are going to go against each other. I don’t see how an election can happen in this vacuum.”