Amidst Women's March Drama, At Least One Major Feminist Group Is Sticking By It

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Planned Parenthood is sticking with the national Women’s March organization as the embattled activist group that sprung to life in the wake of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election marches into its third year of organizing efforts. The Women’s March has been embroiled in controversy for months over accusations of anti-Semitism. This week it came to a head after a detailed investigative report alleged anti-Semitic statements among some of its co-founders and allegations of financial mismanagement.
"Over the last two years, we’ve seen unprecedented attacks on our health and rights from the Trump-Pence administration. The Women’s March has become a symbol of our collective resistance to these damaging and discriminatory policies and Planned Parenthood is proud to once again, join our progressive partners for the #WomensWave mobilization to protect and advance the progress we've made as a movement dedicated to equity and justice for all people,” Erica Sackin, senior communications director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement to Refinery29.
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The statement was issued following an effort by Refinery29 to update and clarify comments Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen made in an interview on Nov 30. Refinery29 had asked Wen about whether it would remain a partner and sponsor of the Women’s March. At the time, Wen demurred, saying: “We are working on it with all of our partners and we will have more information for you as our as our collaboration and our work goes on.” On Wednesday, when Refinery29 sought clarification ahead of publication of that interview — and in the aftermath of Monday’s bombshell report by Tablet magazine detailing allegations of anti-Semitism and financial mismanagement — a spokeswoman repeatedly declined to provide an update on the record. On Thursday, a different Planned Parenthood spokeswoman contacted Refinery29 and provided the statement.
The Women’s March on Washington (as well as the hundreds of independently organized sister marches across the country) has been widely credited with channeling political activism and engagement among (mostly) Democratic women. But, as Refinery29 has extensively reported, the movement’s most visible leaders have been battered by controversy since emerging as players on the national political scene. Most prominently, there have been the ongoing allegations of anti-Semitism among several of the co-founders. This has led to public backlash and led some local organizers to distance themselves from the central organization. There have also been trademark disputes, PR blunders and questions about the organization’s financial transparency. (Women’s March Inc.’s 2017 tax filing and annual report are now on their website.)
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Many of these issues were recently highlighted in the in-depth Tablet magazine feature published earlier this week, “Is The Women’s March Melting Down.” The 10,000-plus word report included fresh allegations that co-chairs Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory made anti-Semitic remarks at the very first planning meeting for the march. It also included allegations of financial and organizational mismanagement. Perez and Mallory were co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington and are currently board members of the organization, Women’s March, Inc. that grew out of the original planning committee.
Women’s March, Inc. disputed all the allegations to Tablet and following publication a representative sent emails to reporters who tweeted about that story (including a reporter at Refinery29) claiming that multiple elements of the story are untrue. The e-mail said that Tablet is in the process of making several corrections and offering additional backup for their claims — but that the info would only be available to reporters off the record. (The piece was updated at 3:30 pm with few substantive changes, as the group’s spin tactics sparked backlash from reporters on Twitter.) Later that night, three of the current co-chairs — Mallory, Sarsour, and Perez — took to Facebook to accuse the sources in the Tablet story of lying and challenging them to a public debate.
Refinery29 reached out to each of the three women named in the video — Evvie Harmon, Mercy Morganfield, and Vanessa Wruble — for comment. “Like Tamika, Linda and Carmen, March On too is focused on making our affiliates’ marches in January a success. I did not lie about Women’s March, Inc. but I don’t believe a public debate is an appropriate or productive format to address any of these issues,” Wruble, who was a chief architect of the original Women’s March on Washington team and is a founder of an offshoot organization called March On, said in a text message. “I’m trying to move forward and focus on building a strong, decentralized movement led by women everywhere, from all walks of life and I invite all to join us.”
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"The way you you respond to criticism shows more than the criticism itself," Morganfield said in a Facebook to message to Refinery29 shortly after this article was published. She added that she is not public figure and felt the video is an intimidation tactic. Harmon did not get back to us.
Planned Parenthood did not directly address the latest allegations in the statement, but said they must “unequivocally reaffirm, as the Women's March leadership has, that there is no place for anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, or any kind of bigotry in our communities, our progressive movement, and our country.”
“We will continue to work with the Women’s March to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the Unity Principles that are the basis of our partnership,” the statement adds.
While Planned Parenthood is not the only organization to partner with Women’s March, the powerful reproductive healthcare organization has been a prominent backer since 2016. Former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, a featured speaker at the original 2017 Women’s March on Washington, praised the group’s impact in numerous interviews, and Planned Parenthood’s support of the October 2017 Women’s March convention was prominently featured on the gathering’s literature, along with sponsors like American Civil Liberties Union, Emily’s List, and MoveOn.org. The Women’s March’s next major initiative — a constellation of #WomensWave marches scheduled for January 19, 2019 — is roughly a month away.
Refinery29 has reached out to the Women’s March to ask for comment on Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the upcoming efforts, as well as for a full list of confirmed partners.
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The announcement appears to follow weeks of internal discussion at Planned Parenthood about the organization’s future involvement with the Women’s March. When Refinery29 first asked Wen about the controversies and whether it would remain a partner and sponsor of the Women’s March during a Nov. 30 interview, a spokeswoman interjected and said she would need to follow up with additional information to avoid speaking out of turn. After that interview, that spokeswoman said she was not able to provide an update on the record. On Dec. 12, ahead of publishing the full interview with Wen, Refinery29 contacted the spokeswoman to ask if a decision had been made. That spokeswoman called and asked to speak off-the-record about the organization’s plan. Less than an hour later, after learning in a subsequent call that Refinery29 intended to write a separate piece on any updates regarding Planned Parenthood’s future involvement in the Women’s March, the spokeswoman declined to provide an on-the-record comment. “It turns out we've gotten a lot of requests on this, so we're planning to push out a full statement with a lot more context,” she wrote in an email, adding that the comment would be likely issued “a bit later today than 3:30.” Despite multiple phone and email inquiries from Refinery on Wednesday, the spokeswoman declined to comment further on the record. On Thursday afternoon, after Refinery29 informed Planned Parenthood of its plans to publish both the Q-and-A and a separate article on the Women’s March relationship, a different spokesperson called and emailed a response. That statement, attributed to Sackin, is included in full below:
"Over the last two years, we’ve seen unprecedented attacks on our health and rights from the Trump-Pence administration. The Women’s March has become a symbol of our collective resistance to these damaging and discriminatory policies and Planned Parenthood is proud to once again, join our progressive partners for the #WomensWave mobilization to protect and advance the progress we've made as a movement dedicated to equity and justice for all people. As a health care provider, we have a responsibility to stand up for our patients and continue to fight for their rights. We must also unequivocally reaffirm, as the Women's March leadership has, that there is no place for anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, or any kind of bigotry in our communities, our progressive movement, and our country. We will continue to work with the Women’s March to hold ourselves and each other accountable to the Unity Principles that are the basis of our partnership.”
Update 2:22pm: This article has been updated to include comments from Mercy Morganfield.
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