NEW YORK, NEW YORK – It was a tale of two protests: Uptown, the streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side were filled with women holding signs and wearing the iconic pink hats that have become the symbol of the Women’s March, now in its third year.
Downtown in Foley Square, a number of women gathered for a separate rally — one that some women at the uptown protest said they were not willing to be part of.
As chants from both marches resounded throughout the city, women in both camps were energized about fighting for their rights and opposing the administration of President Donald Trump.
But the controversy about the leadership of the movement has divided its supporters and dampened its message of sisterhood and unity.
Both protests were overshadowed by a nagging question: Will the Women’s March movement become unified and stronger going forward, or will it continue to fracture along newly exposed fault lines?
The marchers downtown included Jordy Mark, 70, wielding a yellow sign that read “TRUMP, PENCE, FARRAKHAN NO HATE, NO HATE, NO HATE,” with a red “X” through all three names. She was taking part in the alternative protest that had been organized by Women’s March NYC.
“The attitude of the Women’s March leadership doesn’t sit right with me,” said Mark, whose sign referred to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, an avowed anti-Semite and homophobe.
“People speak up for anti-racist and anti-immigrant views, but they’re quiet when it comes to anti-Semitism. Hatred against Jews has never been dealt with in any real way,” she said.
The rift in the movement has been a dominant theme of this year’s protests, and nowhere is the division seen more starkly than in New York, where the two sides could not be reconciled and two protests were held instead of one.
The rally uptown was organized by the Women’s March Alliance. Some participants said they chose that demonstration because it’s a group they had protested with in the past.
Some of the protesters there said they chose not to focus on the divisions, but on the issues that propelled them to turn out at past protests, like women’s empowerment, economic inequality, and their deep-seated disdain for President Donald Trump.
“The economy’s falling apart. We want the person in the White House out. We’re here as women wanting this to end!” said Nancy Davidson, 75.
Many women said they could not join a protest organized by a group whose leaders are alleged to have made anti-Jewish statements or supported people with anti-Semitic leanings.
Internal divisions over allegations of anti-Semitism by current leaders of the national organizing group cast a cloud over Women’s March after Tamika Mallory, co-president of this year’s march, in an Instagram post expressed admiration for Farrakhan.
Other marchers said they were unhappy with other members of the national leadership, particularly Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist in the BDS movement, which calls for ratcheting up pressure on Israel over its human rights record through a combination of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.
Susan Cutler, 61, of Wilton, Connecticut said she was deeply offended by Mallory’s refusal to condemn Farrakhan. She said she’d like to see the women’s movement united, but not until Sarsour and Mallory step down.
“It’s hypocrisy to talk about acceptance and equal rights but to hold Israel to a different standard,” explained Cutler. “The anti-Semitism that came out of this leadership is not something that I can support.”
Tiffany McCullough, 40, who protested downtown, said she was also put off by the anti-Semitism allegations, even though she is not Jewish.
“As a Roman Catholic who has marched in the D.C. March for Life for most of my life, I had a difficult time attending today,” she said. “There are some things Sarsour has said… that I’ve felt attacked by. But I think it’s important to show up for my sisters.”
Cassidy Layton, 21, who identifies as a Latina Jew, said she doesn’t approve of the leadership of the Women’s March, but her passion for intersectional feminism spurred her to participate in Saturday’s downtown march. “I’m showing up for women,” she said. “So many women have died for our right to be here.”
There were those who took the view Saturday that two protests were actually better than one. On the Upper West Side, Genevieve Rust, 15, and Gab Green, 18, both of who commuted to the march from central New Jersey, were of that view.
“Actually, it makes us stronger to have two demonstrations,” Green said. “Whatever women’s march you go to, it’s okay. We’re all here for the same reasons. It’s one movement in two places. That’s powerful.”
This piece has been updated to correct the viewpoint of some women who attended the downtown rally.