The Women’s March is cutting ties with three inaugural board members who have been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, infighting and financial mismanagement – controversies some say have slowed the organization’s progress and diminished its impact.
Co-Chairs Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour stepped down from the board July 15, though the organization has been slow to announce their departures. The Women’s March website continued to host their photos and titles as co-chairs through this week, when the group announced the board turnover.
A diverse cast of 16 new board members will inherit an organization recovering from a failed attempt to trademark the Women’s March name and fractured relationships with local activist groups and the Jewish community.
The shake-up comes at a critical time for the organization. With the 2020 election kicking into high gear, experts said organizers can no longer afford the distractions and controversies that have muddled the group’s message and loomed over its every move.
“There’s an opportunity here for a group to rise out of the ashes of divisiveness and continue on with the mission that was the Women’s March, and, honestly, that would be wonderful,” said Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies and tracks protest movements. “There were so many things that were odd decisions, and decisions that made it unclear whether they actually cared about building toward a blue wave and building on the energy and enthusiasm that was built in 2017.”
Bland and Mallory, who served as co-presidents of the organization, will be formally replaced when the new board convenes for its first meeting this month. Once assembled, officials said, the incoming board will elect new leadership.
Calls for the co-chairs to resign rose to a crescendo ahead of the 2019 Women’s March on Washington, which drew thousands of women to the District in January.
Co-Chair Carmen Perez, who runs the Gathering for Justice – a criminal justice reform group that seeks to end child incarceration and reform the justice system at large – will stay.
Mallory didn’t respond to requests for comment on her departure, although the organization issued a statement Monday that said the three would “transition off of the Women’s March Board and onto other projects focused on advocacy within their respective organizations.”
Reached via text message, Sarsour said the new Women’s March board is “AMAZING,” adding that she will continue working to get voters to the polls in 2020.
“I am grateful to the women who stepped up to shepherd the Women’s March,” she wrote. “This is what women supporting women looks like.”
Bland said the changeover was long planned by the outgoing leadership.
The new board members, several of whom acknowledged that the organization has made “mistakes and missteps” in the past, were selected by a nominating committee, and include: Samia Assed, a Palestinian-American activist from New Mexico who serves on the board of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice; Zahra Billoo, a civil rights attorney and executive director of the San Francisco Bay area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Sarah Eagle Heart, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and the CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy; Ginna Green, who runs the strategy arm of liberal Jewish group Bend the Arc and was among a group of Jewish women to lead the 2019 Women’s March on Washington; and Lu-Shawn Thompson, widow of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who has worked to get more black women elected to political office.
The geographic diversity of the new board is a shift from a concentration in New York and Washington, where all of its previous board members were based.
The board’s first big task will be overseeing a protest next month in the District.
On Oct. 6, the group will host #ReclaimTheCourt, in which activists will gather to protest Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment and “his work to overturn Roe v. Wade,” according to Women’s March organizers.
To some, the plan to issue a legislative agenda on behalf of all women spoke directly to the growing rift at the center of the Women’s March movement: What began as a grassroots collaboration by hundreds of distinct organizations and activists became increasingly defined by one group and its leadership team of four women.
Several cities, including Washington, New York and Philadelphia, saw competing Women’s Marches in January, with groups offering alternative rallies for women who didn’t want to affiliate with the national group.
Earlier this year, the national Women’s March organization abandoned its effort to trademark the words “women’s march,” bringing a splintering two-year battle over who owns the words and the movement to a close.
Many organizers separate from the national Women’s March group celebrated the national group’s about-face as a victory for the movement. More than a dozen local organizations across the country formally opposed the national group’s trademark petition, claiming that no entity can own the words “women’s march” or the activism it inspired. Four of them sued.
New board members said they hope to change the focus and reputation of the Women’s March.
“Most of us are new to this,” Green said. “We don’t have any relationship with the state chapters. I think we’re open to make sure we’re building the right movement for everyone.”
The story of the Women’s March began in 2016 with a social-media post calling for women to rally in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. As the new board convenes, members said the group plans to return to its roots in crafting priorities.
They said the main goal will be getting Trump out of the White House.
Several newly appointed board members said the Women’s March’s biggest challenge remains its greatest strength: having a wide base of support among women with various life experiences and priorities.
“There is so much energy to harness, and as we approach what may be the most challenging election of our lives – even more challenging than the last one – the biggest challenge the Women’s March will face is being able to harness our biggest strength and turn that energy into action,” Billoo said.