As organizers from the national Women’s March face claims of anti-Semitism, Democrats eyeing bids for the White House appear to be steering clear of the once-celebrated annual event, with few candidates willing to weigh in on the controversy.
When reached this week, seven prominent Democratic hopefuls did not respond to questions about the march. Four initially said they would be traveling elsewhere or had no plans to attend.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who launched her presidential campaign this week, is now planning to attend Women's March Iowa on Saturday, the organization announced Wednesday night.
"Senator Gillibrand strongly condemns anti-Semitism from anyone, in all forms, and believes it has no place in a movement for women's empowerment or anywhere else," her campaign said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "She is looking forward to being in Iowa and will not turn her back on the thousands of Iowa women who are joining this locally organized march to advocate for the issues that deeply impact them and their families. This powerful and meaningful march is about the hardworking women in Des Moines and across the country, and she can’t wait to join them.”
Two of the other Democrats, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Housing secretary Julián Castro, have also announced exploratory committees to begin funding a presidential campaign. The rest — former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former member of Congress Beto O’Rourke, and Sen. Bernie Sanders — are all considering campaigns.
The Democratic National Committee, the party’s central arm in Washington, DC, also has no plans to partner with the Women’s March. A DNC official said the party has partnered with Women’s March organizers in the past on various projects, but has never been a sponsor of the national event.
“The DNC stands in solidarity with all those fighting for women’s rights and holding the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers across the country accountable,” the official added.
This year, a slew of groups have decided not to partner with the Women’s March, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and EMILY’s List.
The annual gathering began two years ago, on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, when millions of women marched across the country in protest — a galvanizing moment for the Democratic Party that became a stand-in for the so-called “resistance” and a precursor to the #MeToo movement that set off an urgent national conversation around workplace misconduct, harassment, and abuses of power.
The marches over the last two years launched local chapters across the country — a loosely organized network of chapters headed by the more prominent national organizers, similar to other large movements of the 21st century.
Gillibrand, the New York senator who has been an outspoken voice in the #MeToo movement and would make women’s issues a centerpiece of her possible presidential campaign, once called the 2017 march the “most inspiring and transformational moment I’ve ever witnessed in politics.” The movement happened, she wrote in a TIME magazine tribute to the march, “because four extraordinary women — Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour — had the courage to take on something big, important and urgent, and never gave up.”
Now that same group of leadership is facing charges of anti-Semitism — allegations that broke into public view over the past year — after cofounder Tamika Mallory attended the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day. At the event, Louis Farrakhan made a series of anti-Semitic and anti-gay remarks. Following widespread criticism of her attendance at the event, the Women’s March put out a statement that included: “Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles.” But to the frustration of people inside and outside the organization, the group did not explicitly condemn Farrakhan. In an interview with the Atlantic, Mallory described the work of the Nation of Islam in rehabilitating struggling communities as central to her continued support for the group.
Last month, Tablet magazine published an investigation into the group detailing conflicts between local organizations and the national group. At the organization’s first meeting, according to Tablet, Mallory and another lead organizer, Carmen Perez, made derogatory comments about American Jews linked to writings from Farrakhan suggesting that Jews carried blame for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Mallory and Perez have denied making those comments.) Since then, however, they have acknowledged to the New York Times that the role of Jewish women was discussed at the meeting. Vanessa Wruble, a Jewish activist, has also said she believed she was pushed out of the group soon after the first march because of her faith.
The Tablet story described other disputes within the group, including frustration about a lack of LGBT representation on the organization’s board.
Mallory, who is copresident of the Women’s March, defended her connection to Farrakhan Monday on The View, and when pressed would not explicitly condemn his remarks about Jews.
In a statement to ABC News, Bob Bland, the other copresident, said that the Women’s March “unequivocally condemns anti-Semitism” and “any statements of hate.”
Gillibrand and Harris were two of many Democrats to speak at the 2017 march in Washington. A Harris spokesperson said the senator would not be attending this coming weekend. Brown, the Ohio senator, said through a spokesperson that he “has a prior commitment that weekend and is not planning to attend.” Booker also said through a spokesperson that he would be traveling this weekend.
Aides to Biden, Castro, Gabbard, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren did not respond to questions about their plans.
Molly Hensley-Clancy, Henry J. Gomez, and Katherine Miller contributed reporting to this story.