Women’s March Risks Alienating The Women They Claim To Represent
For women both new to expressions of dissent and seasoned protesters, Women’s March has provided an appealing platform and outlet for expressing dissatisfaction with the Trump administration and advocating for women’s rights. Six months ago, Women’s March brought together women — and men — not only in Washington, D.C. but in cities and towns across the country to demonstrate against Donald Trump and the misogynistic policies and beliefs he represents. That day in January, Women’s March was a unifying force. After a controversial Tweet on Tuesday, however, Women’s March risks alienating many of the women who once found an expression for their dissent through their organization.
Tuesday, the Women’s March Twitter account posted a Happy Birthday message to Assata Shakur, naming her a Sign of Resistance. The Women’s March often posts inspirational pictures, using the hashtag #SignofResistance. Other recent signs have included an image of Philando Castile, a call to protect immigrants, and the words “healthcare is a basic human right.” Assata Shakur, however, is much more controversial. She was convicted of murder and has been a fugitive since her 1979 escape from prison.
Happy birthday to the revolutionary #AssataShakur! Today's #SignOfResistance, in Assata's honor, is by @Meloniousfunk.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper expressed dismay at the choice, tweeting:
I can answer Jake Tapper’s question. Are any progressives out there condemning this? Yes, there are progressives out there condemning this. I condemn this. Shakur was sentenced to life for killing a New Jersey State Trooper and was named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list in 2013. Women’s March attempted to minimize the significance of her conviction by focusing on her activism and the ways she has been victimized, but there is no shortage of men, women, and slogans Women’s March could have used to galvanize its supporters.
The Women’s March’s mission is to effect change through “nonviolent resistance and building inclusive structures guided by self-determination, dignity, and respect.” Shakur does not represent nonviolent resistance. Jake Tapper’s tweet expressed what many were already feeling when they saw the tweet honoring her: This is outrageous.
Here is where Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour does not uphold the mission of the movement she helps organize. In addition to positioning Shakur as a role model for protest and dissent through the Women’s March platform, she further alienated potential supporters and undermined her organization’s credibility by attacking Tapper.
@jaketapper joins the ranks of the alt-right to target me online. Welcome to the party.
Tapper was not expressing an extreme viewpoint, yet Sarsour accused him of joining the alt-right in directing personal attacks against her. There should be room in the movement for women who share Tapper’s sentiment and are uncomfortable — perhaps even offended and outraged — with the choice of Shakur as a Sign of Resistance. Sarsour is clear, though: You are either for us or against us. And, if you are against any part of us, you are just as bad as the alt-right. This type of rhetoric will soon position the Women’s March as a fringe movement instead of the inclusive movement outlined in its mission statement. Through this statement, Sarsour has drawn a line in the sand and undermines the perspectives of advocates who disagree.
Some of Sarsour’s critics are indeed Islamophobic, alt-right fear-mongers. When Sarsour called for a jihad of truth against the Trump administration, there was a barrage of alt-right coverage reporting — falsely — that she had called for a literal jihad of violence. Mainstream, progressive people who criticize Sarsour for her support of Shakur do not deserve to be lumped in with a movement so fundamentally opposed to the values the Women’s March purports to espouse. It is understandable that Sarsour would be outraged about lies and threats directed towards her and her family, but it is it fair to put Jake Tapper in the same category as perpetrators of these lies and threats? Are he and others who are distressed with her support of Shakur now included on her list?
Just know that I am taking names of those who have lied about me to defame my character. I may be quiet now but not for long. I am working.
This is not the first time Sarsour has been the subject of controversy. Though she attracted positive media coverage of her admirable efforts to raise money to restore Jewish cemeteries that were defaced by anti-Semitic vandalism, she has expressed other viewpoints during her career that have detracted from the mission of the Women’s March. In 2011, she attacked Brigitte Gabriel, an anti-genital mutilation advocate and leader of Act for America, a group some have considered anti-Islam. In a now-deleted tweet, Sarsour wrote, “She is asking 4 an a$$ whippin’. I wish I could take their vaginas away- they don’t deserve to be women.”
Friday marks #6MonthsSinceWomensMarch. We're looking to share a #SignOfResistance to mark the occasion. Tag us in your Women's March art!
If the goal of the Women’s March is to “unite with love and resist with love,” Shakur’s legacy has no place in this movement. Some may disagree and are certainly free to honor her legacy on their terms. Foisting that brand of advocacy and protest on the entirety of the Women’s March movement, however, is inappropriate, especially when Sarsour insinuates that people who oppose Shakur as a model of peaceful resistance are of the same ilk as alt-right White nationalists. That rhetoric is the opposite of inclusive.
Women’s March has empowered and given voice to many women, some of whom are new to activism. Lifting up Shakur, however, sends the message: “This is what we believe. This is how we protest.” While some women might accept that blindly and some may approve of Shakur as a role model, many others do not want to be a part of a movement that romanticizes — even glorifies — violence and terrorism. And, nobody who shares the values expressed in the Women’s March mission statement wants to be put into the same category as the alt-right for disagreeing with the choice of Shakur as a Sign of Resistance.
There should be room for a diversity of opinions and viewpoints within the Women’s March movement. More and more often, though, it seems that Sarsour is not willing to extend the same tolerance and understanding that she expects from others.
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