Chicago chapter of Women’s March cancels 2019 rally amid national org’s anti-Semitism controversy

The Chicago chapter of the Women’s March has canceled its rally planned for January, citing high costs and insufficient volunteer hours, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.

The newspaper noted that the cancellation of the event, which in the past drew hundreds of thousands of people to the city, comes amid growing controversy surrounding the group’s national leaders and their ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made several anti-Semitic comments in the past.

Marches and rallies in Washington, D.C., and in cities across the country are still planned for Jan. 19, including several in Illinois. The Chicago chapter has said it will commemorate the anniversary of the national march in other ways but hasn't yet released details.

“There’s no march, there’s no rally,” Sara Kurensky, a Women’s March Chicago board member, told the Tribune. “We’re going to provide ways for people to organize and take action in their local communities.” 

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The Chicago chapter of the Women's March signaled in a Facebook post in November that they would not hold another rally in January. Many commentators responded with disappointment, with some saying they would go to other Illinois events or travel to D.C.

The cancellation takes place against a backdrop of controversy, as leaders of the national Women’s March have come under fire for their ties to Farrakhan, whose Nation of Islam is considered an anti-Semitic hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a February speech in which he praised Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory, Farrakhan said that “the powerful Jews are my enemy.” The national movement denounced the comments in March but faced criticism for waiting too long. Mallory has also applauded Farrakhan on social media.

Teresa Shook, a co-founder of the national movement, in November called for national leaders to step down, after having “allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs.”

The Washington state chapter announced earlier in December that the group would dissolve in protest, and the Rhode Island chapter declared it is separating from the national movement. 

“Every member of our movement matters to us — including our incredible Jewish and LGBTQ members. We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused, but we see you, we love you, and we are fighting with you,” Women’s March National Organizer Linda Sarsour said in a November statement, referencing homophobic remarks Farrakhan has also made. 

Leaders of the Chicago chapter told the Tribune they are not directly affiliated with the national movement and maintained that the January cancellation was not due to the controversy. However, the opportunity to distance the Chicago organization from national Women’s March leaders was a “side benefit.”

“That sort of infighting within the movement is very painful. It’s very painful to watch,” Kurensky said. “When a handful of leaders ... say something, they are not speaking for an entire movement.” 

Kurensky added that a local event in October called “March to the Polls,” a get-out-the-vote effort for the midterm races that brought out about 100,000 supporters, cost more than $150,000 and put an immense strain on volunteer hours, limiting their resources and making a January event unviable.

“If we waited until January, what were we waiting for?” she said. “If the elections weren’t what we were hoping for, what are we marching for? What would be the purpose for marching in January after the elections?” 

The first women’s marches were held in January 2017 to protest the new Trump administration. Millions attended around the globe and about 250,000 people marched in Chicago, according to the Tribune. About 300,000 rallied again in Chicago this past January.