I Helped Found the Women’s March. Jewish Women Are Essential in 2020.
My name is Carmen Perez. Three years ago I helped found the dynamic, intersectional movement that roared into being on January 21, 2017, the day of the largest mass protest in American history. The first Women’s March saw more than five million marchers of all backgrounds and gender identities come together for justice. It was the beginning of a cultural moment in which progressives rallied together to build the political movement that elected a record 102 women to the House of Representatives in 2018.
In the aftermath of the first Women’s March, talented women from the most marginalized communities finally started to get their share of the spotlight. Women like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez have stormed into the political arena, and women like Erika Andiola have organized to build collective power in their communities. Women have exerted their strength to mobilize for change on intersectional issues like ending family separation, defunding private prisons and protecting transgender rights.
Three years have passed since our movement began changing what people thought was possible for women to achieve through collective action. Now more than ever, we need to mobilize our intersectional movement.
This Saturday, we are marching together for the fourth time — for women’s liberation; for equity; for marginalized communities everywhere; for our daughters, sisters, mothers, and the future.
As the threat of war looms over our nation, a united feminist movement is more necessary than ever; historically, feminists have been at the center in leading anti-war movements.
Whoever is reading this, however you identify, whatever your story, we need you to march with us.
There are only ten months to go until our country votes for its next president. We don’t know yet if we will be voting to elect our first female head of state, but that possibility is still in the cards.
In the meantime, I want to take a moment to celebrate what Jewish women have contributed to our movement, and to encourage us all to march together, not just on January 18 but all the way through to the election on November 3, 2020.
You have given the Women’s March so much, but so much more work remains to be done in the shared struggle for equity of American women. As we work together to help lead the Women’s March movement into a historic election cycle, I look to the examples of radical Jewish women who have historically been at the forefront of social change in America.
Jewish women like Naomi Weisstein, the legendary psychology professor and neuroscientist who revolutionized the study of the psychology of women while also founding the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. Jewish women like Irena Klepfisz, born in the Warsaw Ghetto to socialist parents, one of whom was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Irena became a radical activist, poet and professor who founded the celebrated New York lesbian feminist collective Di Vilde Chayes.
Jewish women like Sophie Ellman-Golan, who played a vital role in shaping the voice of the Women’s March and is now courageously fighting white nationalism and anti-Semitism. And Jewish women like Tae Phoenix, the queer, neurodivergent Latinx Jewish woman who wrote so beautifully about overcoming structural prejudice in her op-ed “I’m A Latina Jew. My People Are In Concentration Camps Today – Just Like They Were During The Holocaust.”
In her piece, Tae wrote about the everyday heroism of Miep Gies. Although her courage was recognized worldwide, Miep was “a gentile Dutch woman who hid Anne Frank and her family [and] said that she wasn’t anyone special, just an ordinary person who decided to do the right thing. ‘You are the heroes,’ she said, ‘you are the heroes everyday.’ She was speaking to us.”
Jewish women have worked hand-in-hand with women of color, LGBTQ+ women and allies to transform American society. Their examples are a tribute to what can be accomplished through intersectionality, Kingian nonviolence and courageous conversations. Those values and tactics will be crucial in this election, in which it is critical that all women have their voices heard.
I believe in my heart that America’s women deserve a movement that can represent the needs of all their communities, and the Women’s March is that movement. Tomorrow, on January 18, 2020, our intersectional feminist movement will rally its profound strength to achieve change.
As a leader, it is critical to me to commit to making intersectionality and inclusivity part of the DNA of every institution I come into contact with. Truly intersectional feminism is vital to the survival of not just the women’s liberation movement, but the struggle for equity for all communities. Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the legendary professor and theorist of intersectionality, wrote that our movements are less likely to fracture the better we can collectively understand how identities and power work together in different contexts.
What does it mean to lead an intersectional movement? It means including Jewish voices from across the Jewish community in conversations about the direction of our organization and the struggle for women’s liberation.
Inclusiveness means that leaders from all communities should have a seat at the table. Jewish strategists like Ginny Goldman and Jewish organizers of color like Ginna Green have added invaluable depths of expertise, wisdom and kindness to the board of the Women’s March. These women have brought decades of organizing, advocacy and interfaith and interethnic relations experience to our board. Their bone-deep commitment to intersectionality inspires us to work harder and longer every day on behalf of our essential movement.
But all our work at the Women’s March organization — the long days organizing and coalition-building and protesting, and the long nights some of us spent under arrest, suffering for the freedom of our sisters — will be for nothing if we can’t mobilize women in 2020.
We want Jewish women to be heard and empowered every step of the way, from January 18 to November 3. Our march is for every woman. That’s why we want you to march with us in 2020 and rise into your power.
Carmen Perez is President/Chief Executive Officer of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit founded by legendary artist and activist Harry Belafonte. Carmen has crossed the globe promoting peace through civil and human rights, building alternatives to incarceration and violence, and providing commentary and guidance for state and federal policy creation. Follow her on Twitter: @msladyjustice1.