On Saturday, millions of people are expected to gather for a third year of women’s marches in cities across the country, including about 25 marches in California alone.
Or maybe they won’t.
Turnout is hard to predict even in ideal conditions. In winter, the best of intentions can be thwarted by a bout of inclement weather. (That won’t be an excuse in Los Angeles, where the post-storm forecast calls for high temperatures of up to 75 degrees.)
And then there’s all the winning in the last two years: #MeToo started taking names of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct — and it is still going strong. Women stormed Washington and state capitals in historic numbers in November. And President Trump has been publicly schooled by his new feminist nemesis, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). The newly revitalized women’s movement seems to moving apace, marches or no.
And then there is the pall of unpleasantness emanating from the New York City-based Women’s March Inc., one of the largest march-organizing groups. For months the group has been roiled by allegations of anti-Semitism among key leaders. It’s a complicated story that boils down to a dispute about whether there were anti-Semitic comments made at a board meeting early last year, as well as the attendance of board member Tamika Mallory at a speech given by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has a long history of saying vile things about Jewish people.
I’m not going to wade into that mess other to say it’s an unfortunate situation that has sparked a factionalism among march organizers and speculation about the future of the movement. The controversy may indeed turn off participants in some of this year’s marches, particularly the big one in D.C. Who wants to march under a banner of anti-Semitism? (Well, other than white nationalists, that is.)
But does this bode ill for future of the movement? It depends on which movement we are talking about. Look, the women’s marches have been great for whipping up enthusiasm and displaying the scope and scale of frustration among women, but they aren’t the women’s movement itself. The marches didn’t launch #MeToo or the political campaigns for women. They weren’t the catalysts for change so much as the vehicles channeling the energy that was already in motion the moment that Donald Trump was elected president over Hillary Clinton.
In any case, the question of whether to march or not shouldn’t keep Californians up tonight. The East Coast owns this drama. The state’s main march organizing body, California Women's March, is not affiliated with the New York City march organization. “We are simply a separate organization,” Emiliana Guereca, the president of the California organization and one of the original founders of Women’s March Los Angeles, told me.