Which Way Forward for the Feminist Movement Today?
Interview with Womxn’s March Organizer and DSA Activist Linda Sarsour
Trump’s inauguration as president on January 20, 2017 was met with the largest protests in US history when millions took to the streets. Linda Sarsour was one of the key organizers of those historic Womxn's Marches; she is an activist with the Brooklyn chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and was a speaker at the DSA National Convention in Atlanta. DSA Convention delegate HARRIS L. sat down with Linda and asked her about the Womxn's Marches and DSA’s role in the feminist movement. (This is a shortened transcript of an interview that took place on August 3, 2019 before Sarsour resigned from her position with the Womxn’s March.)
HARRIS: The Womxn’s Marches brought the global feminist movement from India, Poland, Argentina and many other countries here to the US. While these marches lacked unifying concrete demands, their enormous size did undermine Trump’s legitimacy. Since then, however, the corporate media and the Democratic Party establishment have worked to stoke exaggerated divisions within the movement, resulting in fractures and potentially the end of the marches.
Some DSA activists believe we can help reverse this backwards momentum by taking a lead in the feminist movement and helping organize new feminist marches. Do you believe there is a future for the Womxn’s Marches?
LINDA: I think there historically have always been these moments—it's not the first time. Anytime the opposition sees powerful movements that are organizing for ordinary people, we’re going to get attacked. And it was very clear to us what those attacks were going to be based on. It was going to be based on identities, the beliefs that we shared, and particularly because I was Palestinian. And they were attacking me literally the Monday after the 2017 Womxn’s March, and I was very grateful for the solidarity that I received from around the country.
The right is very organized in that sense. They actually have an entire operation to go after political activists and leftist organizations that have power. Which is why DSA for me is that opportunity for us to build a strong, sustainable movement that cannot be pierced by oppositional attacks.
The Womxn’s March was kind of left open because we are a decentralized organization. These womxn who are leading sister marches, some are young, not in the sense of age necessarily, but young from the perspective of being new organizers. A lot of sister marches, when they saw the attacks happening, they had never had this experience before, and they were very scared. That’s when we saw the marches split in many different directions or cancelled.
For 2020 we’re in the process of expanding the board, the leadership of the Womxn’s March, and there’s two camps: one camp that’s like, “let’s do marches,” and another camp that says, “could we put our resources in electoral organizing and get people to focus on building that kind of power that we need to in 2020?” I’m a base builder. So I was in a third camp by myself often times. Of course, I believe electoral power is important, and I also believe that visible solidarity and marches are important, too. But I also believe in long-term base building of communities that outlast the election. And so for me, it’s the concept of door-knocking, relationship-building, really putting in that work on the ground and literally being at the doorsteps of the people.
So there’s no confirmation on whether there will be marches. Some sister marches may choose to do that, which is great, because they are autonomous. But from a national perspective, maybe it’s not a march. Maybe it’s a convention that brings together Womxn’s Marches from across the country, makes sure they have the right training to go back and build power in their communities.
So for me, the Womxn’s March is also an example of how easily we can be factioned as a movement and how this idea of unity for many means that we’re all the same, we all want the same thing. That’s why it was very important for me to say here that unity is not conformity. You could be in the feminist movement and believe in something different from me, so long as we believe that all womxn or womxn-identifying people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
HARRIS: What do you think is the role for DSA in building the feminist movement right now?
LINDA: If I’m going to be part of an organization, you have to talk about environmental justice and racial justice. You have to talk about healthcare. And so that’s also been a struggle in the movement, where womxn believe that womxn’s issues can’t be criminal justice reform or can’t be the connection between babies at the borders and feminism. And I’m just like, folks, we got to do a lot more political education. But DSA has the opportunity: we have the ideology, we have the principles, we have the values.
HARRIS: There is a struggle happening within progressive movements about whether our best shot at transforming politics is through taking over the Democratic Party, or whether we’re going to have to build our own independent movement, while bringing along people who remain in the Democratic Party. How do you think we should organize our movement?
LINDA: I’m a “small-d democrat.” I don’t feel affiliated with the Democratic Party in any way. The Democratic Party is a harm-reduction party, and that’s the only reason I even vote on that line. So they got me until 2020, but I believe what you’re saying, which is why we have to figure out how to build a sustainable movement for DSA. Eventually, there is an opportunity for us to smash the duopoly in this country.
I’m talking about organizing millions of people to get on a ballot and actually be able to create a party that really centers working people, centers marginalized people. Solidarity is a verb. DSA is a solidarity organization. It requires us to understand that we have to ameliorate suffering, but also build a transformative kind of revolution.