A sea of pink hats will once again descend on the State Capitol on Saturday as Minnesotans gather to promote equal rights and progressive causes at the third annual Women’s March.
The Minnesota rally, part of a national “Women’s Wave” day of action, comes at a time of fresh scrutiny for the movement, which sprung up in response to President Donald Trump’s election.
Women’s March Inc., the nonprofit spearheading the national movement, is weathering criticism amid claims of mismanagement and that several of its high-profile co-chairs have expressed or endorsed anti-Semitic views.
Some local activists want Women’s March Minnesota to condemn the leaders or officially sever ties with the national arm, as more than a dozen local chapters have done. The controversy is already dampening enthusiasm among some past supporters.
Susan Minsberg said the 2017 march inspired her to go beyond her own political activism. But she is sitting out this year after watching a segment on “The View” in which national Women’s March co-President Tamika Mallory declined to condemn past hateful remarks by Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan.
“I think we need to call her out, but they won’t call her out,” said Minsberg, who is Jewish. “They say it’s not our job, but whose job is it?”
Organizers of this year’s Minnesota march, which is coordinated by a local nonprofit that operates independently of the national group, say they remain focused on “celebrating women’s leadership and the success of getting women elected” in 2019.
“We’re building on that momentum and community spirit from when everyone [first] came together,” said Jammi Hansen Blair, chairwoman of Women’s March Minnesota. “We really think that we have been part of this broader movement in getting people more active and participating in their government.”
The first Women’s March, held the day after Trump’s inauguration, inspired a wave of political activism and energy among female candidates and voters on the left. Millions turned out for marches across the country, making the 2017 gathering one of the largest protests in U.S. history. But the recent controversy has dominated in the weeks leading up to the marches.
Prominent former backers, including the Democratic National Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center and EMILY’s List, severed ties with the national march.
Locally, high-profile groups including Education Minnesota, NAACP Minneapolis and the local Planned Parenthood chapter remain as sponsors.
This year’s event will lack some of the political firepower of past marches.
Just one member of the state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Ilhan Omar, is scheduled to address the crowd. Staff for several other Democratic officials, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, said they will be on the Iron Range attending the funeral for former DFL legislator Tom Rukavina.
Hansen Blair is trying to distance the local march from the national controversy, saying local leaders are “disappointed that these conversations have taken away from the important work that’s being done.” She added that local leadership will “be re-evaluating who we are affiliated with” moving forward but did not provide a timeline. The chapter has also issued several statements condemning bigoted and hateful speech.
Rachael Joseph, an advocate for gun violence survivors, said that as a Jewish woman, she decided to attend this year’s march after conversations with local activists.
“What I appreciate the most is they are willing to have the dialogue,” said Joseph of Minneapolis. “They embrace dissenting voices, hear people out and they grow and change from that.”
But some Republicans say local organizers are not seizing the moment to express opposition to anti-Semitic views.
“It’s deeply concerning the Minnesota Women’s March refuses to denounce the obviously anti-Semitic national Women’s March Inc. and is still affiliated with this racist organization,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.
Hansen Blair urged current and former supporters to embrace the larger mission. “Unless we really do come together, real change doesn’t get made,” she said.