A Letter on Loyalty, Agency, Unity and the Farrakhan Controversy

This is not intended to persuade or to convince, it is my voice and my experience and my truth

Recently someone started a discussion on a listerv of prominent movement activists. It started with an eagerness to learn altho it was written from a place of pain. It was about Women's March and the cyclical Farrakhan controversy we find ourselves in every few months. I felt compelled to respond and pour my heart in to it and it proved to be transformative and I wanted to share it with all of you and feel free to share it with others if you wish.

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Thank you for your patience and for those that chimed in. I could write a dissertation/book about this and I may one day but I won't here (this will still be a bit long tho). I am requesting for all who read my words to approach them with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not intended to persuade or to convince, it is my voice and my experience and my truth - one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got. 

Background

The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL "exposed/promoted" a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour's Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker. Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son's father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother's life. I won't rehash this but here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific tree of life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women's March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women's March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked in to a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI. A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger's (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence. Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration - the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power - this is a feature of white supremacy. 

This is not a letter in defense of Minister Farrakhan. He can do that for himself. We have been CRYSTAL CLEAR in BOTH of our statements that we REJECT antisemitism and all forms of racism. We have been CLEAR that Minister Farrakhan has said hateful and hurtful things and that he does not align with our Unity Principles of the Women's March that were created by Women of Color. Minister Farrakhan will tell you himself that he does not belong to nor adhere to our progressive movement or yours. 

We are trained in Kingian nonviolence, the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that at its core calls us to attack the forces of evil not those doing evil. We believe in redemption for people of color who have been discarded, denounced and condemned for centuries in this country. People who engage in acts or behaviors or hold beliefs based on their own historical trauma. It's why we are not ashamed to work with formerly incarcerated individuals who have committed crimes that for some in society would have determined and decided to give them death. We have been slandered for working with criminals - but we are committed to a movement that leaves no one behind. Some folks who claim to be in the resistance or represent the resistance have no ideology or theory of change and have no understanding of the nuance that comes with organizing with communities of color because they have not done the work - and I pray that they do meet, build and learn because it will transform how they show up so they can help and not harm. 

Last year when a St. Louis Jewish cemetery was desecrated with no hesitation I raised close to $165K for its restoration and because of the generosity of many in my community it allowed for the restoration of another Jewish cemetery in Colorado that was neglected for years. Immediately after the Tree of Life shooting, my colleague Tarek and I (through MPower Change) raised $206K to pay for ALL the funerals of the 11 innocent Jews that were killed. My role as a movement leader is not just to say profound words it is to set an example of what meaningful allyship looks like that is beyond thoughts and prayers. This was all erased. Oped after oped after oped after oped after quotes from people who want to see their names in print and barely any mention of our contributions when they decided to tear us down. 

The labels of antisemitism were here before the Minister Farrakhan controversy 8 months ago. Who remembers when a campaign was started by the alt-right and right wing Zionists to get me disinvited from a CUNY commencement speech last June? Who remembers the campaign against me last fall around my participation in a New School panel about the importance of combatting antisemitism in this moment with Jewish Voice for Peace and Jacobin Magazine? Minister Farrakhan was not even a factor yet in the conversation. I was already being labeled an antisemite and by extension the Women's March. It's very clear to me what the underlying issue is - I am a bold, outspoken BDS supporting Palestinian Muslim American woman and the opposition's worst nightmare. They have tried every tactic at their disposal to undermine me, discredit me, vilify me but my roots are too deep and my work is too clear and they have not succeeded so by proxy they began attacking my sister Tamika Mallory - knowing all too well that in this country the most discardable woman is a Black woman. Tamika has been disinvited from some things, and her twitter account that I have access to is full of hate that is unfathomable saturated with the N-words and worst things said to Black women. I will NEVER throw Tamika away. My loyalty to Black women who have risked their lives for all of us is and will be unshaken. I will continue to hold Tamika up because she has done that for too many people that society has written off. 

Tamika and I are women with our own agency. We speak for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are being stripped of our agency when every few months we are asked to condemn the Minister about words that we did not say, nonetheless the words of a man who did not consult us on his words. We are being held to standards that no one would hold themselves to. I can share numerous examples of times when movement leaders could have said more and done more for various communities or in response to hateful things that have come from their communities and their "leaders"- blatant anti-blackness, islamophobia, anti-Palestinian rhetoric -  yet that is UNFAIR which is why I don't expect it nor demand it. As a Muslim, I know all too well that I am expected to answer for other Muslims actions when white folks never have a second thought about having to do that - this is a feature of white supremacy. 

Let's also recognize who the majority is that leads the attacks against women of color leaders - not people of color led institutions or activists.  Wonder why. Who benefits when a powerful, effective and proven organization is attacked? Who benefits when the movement is divided? Who benefits from the confusion and the fractures? Not us. Not marginalized people. Not those who are counting on us to win. Let us not fall for the longstanding tactics of white supremacy of divide and conquer. Unity is NOT uniformity. I am not building a unified movement where we will all agree on every single point and issue. I am building a complex, intersectional movement with the clear understanding that it will be messy and uncomfortable because if it was going to be easy someone would have done it a long time ago and we would all have our rights and be enjoying our lives in a free democratic country that treats us all with dignity and respect. But here we are. We have seen UGLY. I pray that none of you have to experience what we have. A litany of death threats, unsolicited hate mail some with threats of violence. FBI visits to notify me of credible threats to my life that I had not even seen, the need for security detail, surveillance systems for my home - I don't say this for any pity or sympathy because I am NOT a victim, I am a survivor of a white supremacist system that wants to ban and rid itself of people like me and Tamika, I say this to say that these public toxic conversations invite these things to happen to us and we all have a responsibility to want us to be safe and out of harm's way. Tamika and I did not choose to be activists, this work chose us. This is not a side job, or a labor of love - this is a matter of life and death for the communities we love and come from. 

I ask you all to model how we approach each other in the movement. Have conversations, reach out, ask questions, give benefit of the doubt, contextualize moments outside of your own personal feelings, remind yourself of the good this person or persons or organization has done. Use critical thinking skills. Be honest with your feelings, speak from the I, propose solutions and not demands. Challenge people in your circles, engage people. Tearing down, threatening movement leaders with "say this or else we won't do this or if you don't say this than its meaningless" is not the way. 

The Women's March is an important institution in this resistance. We have organized the largest single day demonstration in American history, we have been the catalyst for 20,000 women to run for office, we have trained thousands of women in civil disobedience and direct action, organized the largest women led civil disobedience back in June around family separation, co-led close to 30 days of organizing around Kavanaugh and shifted the entire narrative, worked diligently with many of you on elections in key states winning back the House and NOW we are in the midst of organizing another HISTORIC mobilization to remind the Administration that we are still here as a resistance and send a message to Congress and yes to our friends in Congress that we will create the political will for them to be brave and hold them accountable to the platforms they ran on. 

Thank you for reading this far. I know for some this may not have been easy and may have triggered you and I see you. Sit with this. Absorb it from a place of love and commitment to making this movement work. I pray that our Jewish family recognizes that this resistance is for you too and that you embrace the solidarity we have shown because we have a lot more to give. I am available for one on one conversations and am committed to making the time. 

Stay focused. The real threat is white nationalism and white supremacy. They want to destroy us all. We are all we got and you know that you can count on me and the Women's March leaders to continue to be bold and put it all on the line. We hope to see you on January 19th, 2019. We promise you that we have remarkable things in store and you will leave inspired once again. 

I will leave you with a quote that guides the way I show up in this work and I hope that it speaks to all of you. It is by an aboriginal woman by the name of Lila Watson and she said:

"If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time but if you have come here because you believe that your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together."

My liberation is bound up with all of yours. 

In solidarity, 

Linda Sarsour

Comments
No. 1-11
LoriD
LoriD

I truly appreciate your olive branch towards the Jewish community here. While I certainly understand that neither you nor Tamika are responsible for anything Louis Farrakhan says or does, it does cast a very dark shadow when Tamika, a founder of the Women's March, calls this man GOAT and then further states (https://twitter.com/tamikadmallory/status/862760808232517633) that this man has the same enemies as Jesus (https://twitter.com/tamikadmallory/status/969218672731533313). While her intention wasn't necessarily anti-semitic (https://twitter.com/tamikadmallory/status/969707634378108928), there was plenty of room to view it as such. Yet when I tried to express this, her response was to shame me about Israel. I am a liberal Jewish American who believes in the rights of all at all times, is against occupation, Trump, Netanyahu and the state of Israel as it stands now. I and others like me tend to feel more akin to the plight of Palestinians than the right wing so-called Zionists who choose not to learn from their own history of oppression and instead propagate the same to others. (https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-frozen-out-by-israel-repelled-by-trump-u-s-jews-find-affinity-with-palestinians-1.6676117) This is my very long way of saying I appreciate the effort - but being someone who has marched every year with the Women's March, I had hoped to feel more acceptance from the start than there actually was. But there is time to move forward and heal.

Ani Yehudi
Ani Yehudi

If this IS about Womens Rights then this Is the Womens March! If this is about womens, gays, transgender, anti israel, pro Fahrakhan, pro limitless absorbtion of people from all over till we become a welfare poor country like most of central and south america and anti white group it should Not be just called the Womens march! America during its history has a stain of allowing slavery and discrimination mainly of Black people but there was also discrimination at times at jews, latinos and even catholics or italians or irish or moslems. It is also true we came a very long way as now people of all races are doctors lawyers teachers mayors congress people and were President of the USA! There are many rich and poor people of all races and re ligouns! In contrast in most of the moslem world there are dictatorships with poor civil and religous and gender rights and in south and central america there is extreme corruption and crime which is why so many want to leave! In giant china it is a dictatorship as is noth korea. Russia seems to have been ruled by putin for decades. So G d bless America!! And if your sensitive to jews you would not tell them to not complain when gazan palestinians fire hundreds of rockets at jewish homes or say no jews allowed in the historic small jewish homeland jewish refugees have returned to! In 1948 the un voted to have the land shared into 1 jewish and 1 arab state and 5 arab armies and palestinian arabs responded by attacking the reborn jewish state. Middle east conflict is Not as simple as some may lead to believe! The "moderate" palistinian authority are known to pay those that succeed in killing jewish civilians to this day. They also publicly deny historic long ties of Jews to the Land of Israel including Hebron home of tomb of Jewish Forefathers and Rachels TOmb in Bethlehem and of course Jerusalem. There are over 20 Arab and Moslem lands but just this one small Jewish land. Yet even that is too much for the enemies of Israel. Thats By The Way What They Mean by chanting "From Sea to Sea Palestine Shall be Free" - meaning including the Jewish state. Maybe its best for a womans march to stick to american womens rights!

AhadHa'am
AhadHa'am

She’s making it all about herself. That should tell you a lot right there. First of all, she should completely and unequivocally renounce Farrakhan, and promise she’ll do everything in her power the dissociate herself from his messages of hate, and that’s ALL she should be doing. Should that be so difficult? She should come out and say she and her allies have continually (into the present) made very hateful racists remarks. “We have been perpetuating the demonization of the Jewish people and their state. This stops now. We have expressed solidarity with a the outspoken leader of racist, homophobic, etc. hate group. This stops now.” But she won’t do that, of course, as she has consistently demonized Jews and their institutions (and all her other perceived enemies) for years. Just the other day she accused American Jews of “dual loyalty” (an ancient anti-Semitic canard)

Her statement on Farrakhan: “This is not a letter in defense of Minister Farrakhan. He can do that for himself. We have been CRYSTAL CLEAR in BOTH of our statements that we REJECT antisemitism and all forms of racism. We have been CLEAR that Minister Farrakhan has said hateful and hurtful things and that he does not align with our Unity Principles of the Women's March that were created by Women of Color. Minister Farrakhan will tell you himself that he does not belong to nor adhere to our progressive movement or yours.” That’s what RBG would call a skim milk apology. And “crystal clear”? In one of those statements they mention, they deflect all accusations of the anti-Semitism in their midst, and instead put all the blame on the Right. These are not people who care about protections for minorities. These are people who care about scoring political points for themselves. By contrast, consider the Women’s March’s official creamy-rich response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal: "This is an important day in terms of visibility for all women whose lives have been devastated because of the actions of Harvey Weinstein. We seek justice for women and all people who have been harassed and abused in the workplace. No person should be violated at work, or anywhere else. Ever. Toxic masculinity and misogyny can no longer be ignored or tolerated at the workplace or any other place in society. We stand with the brave women who came forward against Harvey Weinstein. We hope their courage will continue to inspire others to break their silence." Would it have been so hard to respond in similar language with respect to Farrakhan etc.? Absolutely yes, apparently. And then she goes, in this very letter, to blast “right wing Zionists” for trying to get her disinvited for a talk at CUNY because of her outspoken racism. “Who remembers when a campaign was started by the alt-right and right wing Zionists to get me disinvited from a CUNY commencement speech last June?” What in the world does this have to do with confronting her and her colleagues’ bigotries?? In a letter of apology??!! Again, it’s all about her, and her paranoid, conspiracy-theory-driven hatreds. Another beaut: “I was already being labeled an antisemite and by extension the Women's March [sic]. It's very clear to me what the underlying issue is - I am a bold, outspoken BDS supporting Palestinian Muslim American woman and the opposition's worst nightmare.” Pure Trumpian tactics, denying her own racism because of, well, um, because of what, exactly? More about their Farrakhan affiliation: “We are being held to standards that no one would hold themselves to.” Really? I, for one, rather easily hold myself to standards that would never permit me to be an avid, outspoken supporter of a vile racist homophobe.

Regarding the Women's March leadership, well, I think they are a big deal, and it’s important to expose them before they (and those like them) gain the power they crave. They are a false flag operation. The Liberal/Left/Progressive movement (which, I have always naturally aligned with), is increasingly becoming embodied by the likes of the so-called Women’s March leadership. It is being hijacked by people who are outright homophobes, transphobes, misogynists, religious fundamentalists, and yes, especially anti-Semites). This can be confirmed by the things they say, and by the company they keep. Even good ol’ David Duke has on several occasions expressed his support for the March’s Linda Sarsour in particular (when she engages in anti-Semitism). When confronted with her hate, Sarsour lashes out and calls it a Zionist and right-wing conspiracy. The REALLY scary part is that an increasing number of people actually buy into her Trumpian madness! The Right is forever lost, of course, but now the liberal center is being gutted, and in its place, a regressive Left. I worry about a future in which this country becomes a literal battleground between these two extremist camps. And you who who’ll be caught in the middle…So yeah, I think they are a big deal.

This expresses things nicely, with details that should interest you (things have since gotten even worse in the Women’s March ranks):

MarkBMorrow
MarkBMorrow

We speak for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are being stripped of our agency when every few months we are asked to condemn the Minister about words that we did not say, nonetheless the words of a man who did not consult us on his words. We are being held to standards that no one would hold themselves to."

BDS holds all of Israel responsible for the policies of a government they as individuals may not support. Many Jews in Israel do not support Natanyahu or his government. BDS Makes no distinction.

You cannot separate the hateful anti-Jewish rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan from the man or his movement, just as you cannot separate Harvey Weinstein's sexual assaults and abusive behavior from his philanthropy.

Farrakhan's statements over decades are simply incompatible with the goals and aims enunciated by the Women's March. You ask your "Jewish Family" to ignore your embrace of a man who vilifies and lies about them in the name of solidarity with the Women's March. Where is your solidarity with those members of your family who Farrakhan slanders?

Zioness
Zioness

So glad I'm finally able to comment after being blocked from commenting this coming from somebody who supposedly stands up for democracy and free speech and exchange of ideas. The BDS movement which you support let's face it calls for not a peaceful solution or an exchange of ideas but the absolute destruction of the Jewish state. In the meantime wow the haters attempt to tear down Israel, Israel is continuing advances such as this.

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