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Future Of Women's March Uncertain As Tensions Flare Among Movement's Leadership

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

January 21, 2017 - Donald Trump's first full day as president. And millions of people worldwide took to the streets. The Women's March inspired a lot of women to engage in politics for the first time. But from the start there were tensions among the movement's leaders. And now as we approach the second anniversary of those protests, the future of the movement is in question.

Farah Stockman has written about this for the New York Times. She joins me now. Hey there.

FARAH STOCKMAN: Hi.

KELLY: So in a few sentences, give me just the broad-brush outlines of, what is the rift among the original leaders who spearheaded this movement?

STOCKMAN: The original leaders who spearheaded this movement were a diverse coalition. And one among them is a Jewish woman who says that she felt uncomfortable in the movement as a Jewish woman. She was eventually pushed out. And part of the reason she felt uncomfortable is that a black woman and a Latina woman who were among these original leaders were associating with the Nation of Islam. So she found that to be very problematic because Louis Farrakhan is widely seen as anti-Semitic in the Jewish community.

KELLY: The leader of Nation of Islam, right, who's been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks. I mean, what you're describing is a movement that from the get-go was trying to straddle some really big religious and racial divides.

STOCKMAN: Yes.

KELLY: Why has this rift come to the fore now?

STOCKMAN: I think part of it is because of the synagogue shooting. And I think many Jewish women are feeling under threat. And they are outraged that they are not considered to be among the most vulnerable by the Women's March leadership. I think there's also just an exhaustion with the current leaders of the Women's March movement who are a small group of women, all in New York, who did not really expand the circle to include women from other states.

KELLY: And I suppose this prompts the central question. As you have reported this and talked to all of the key figures involved, do you come away with a sense that we are witnessing the growing pains of a movement and a big tent getting bigger, or that they're blowing the tent up as we approach 2019?

STOCKMAN: I think it's a little bit of both. I think that part of what we're witnessing is how hard it is to form these coalitions across lines of difference, right? They get on each other's nerves. They're in a pressure cooker. They're sitting here, putting on a march. Then they had to turn this march into an institution, into an organization that was going to take it forward. And I think that personalities have gotten in the way. And they could be in danger of blowing it up. But I also see the midterm elections. I see the incredible enthusiasm and energy that has brought a record number of women into Congress. And it's hard to ignore that. And a lot of people say, well, that started with the Women's March.

KELLY: Is one factor here or one question in play whether the country, this society has moved past where it was in 2017? I'm thinking the whole #MeToo movement has unfolded since the original Women's March.

STOCKMAN: That's true. I mean, I think that the whole progressive movement is soul searching right now. On the one hand, they're credibly energetic because they see an existential threat in the Trump administration. But on the other hand, they are constantly at war with themselves over what they should stand for and the extent to which identity politics should be a fundamental factor. I mean, even before Trump came into office there was this Black Lives Matter movement, the white privilege movement. People were starting to be asked to confront their privilege. And this is still very much what's going on all over the left. And I think that's hard to hear. It can be detrimental to their view of themselves.

KELLY: That's Farah Stockman of The New York Times talking about tensions among the organizers of the Women's March. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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