Are Bourgeois Feminism and the Women's March Leading Us into the Arms of the Democrats?


Amir Khafagy | Women's Issues | Commentary | February 12th, 2018



Last month, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Manhattan to commemorate the first anniversary of last year's Woman's March on Washington. It was an unpresented and incredible march that amounted to the largest single day of protest in American history. Progressive minded people from around the country took part in day of outrage against the misogynistic and racist symbolism of what Trump represents. The protest was not only contained to the streets of Washington but occurred simultaneously in cities across the globe. It was indeed a remarkable achievement in mass political mobilization and organization. Yet, for all its admirable achievements, this year's woman march, like last years, will probably end up at best, selling us a bag full of hollow symbolism and at worst selling us out to the Democratic Party. Last year, as I watched the demonstrators march in New York I wondered out loud to a friend that if Clinton would have won would we be seeing a Woman's March? Some activists left the march feeling disillusioned by the fact that even though hundreds of thousands of people took part in a single day of mass action, there was little in the way in providing concrete demands or even long-term coordinated action.

This year, the organizers were prepared to change that. According to the Woman's March organizers, this year's march was designed to build momentum for its "Power to the Polls" campaign. The campaign will officially launch on January 21st in Las Vegas with the specific goal of initiating a national voter registration drive. As stated on their website, organizers are aiming to "target swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values, and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressive's candidates to office".

The leaders of the Woman's March are obviously trying to use their brand to influence the upcoming midterm elections. Linda Sarsour, a co-chair the Women's March, was quoted as saying on their website, "This campaign will mobilize a new group of activists to create accessible power to our voting polls." The power that they seem to be describing is vague and symbolic. Actually, it's downright passive and inapt. Voting within itself is one of the passive political acts in itself, especially if you are voting within the context of the two-party system.

Nowhere on their website do they mention any criticism of the role of the two-party system in maintaining a capitalist economic and political system that thrives from oppression and exploitation. You won't find any mention of the devastating effects that neoliberalism has caused for millions of working-class women throughout this country as well as in the global south, despite the fact that both parties have jointly endorsed and enacted these policies happily, arm in arm. Nor is there any mention of protesting militarization or imperialism. Or are those not important issues for women? And the most important piece missing from their entire platform is the central roles that class and race play in the oppression and exploitation of working-class women. In fact, the entire notion of class is invisible to Woman's March organizers, while the centrality of race is at best watered down.

Organizers claim that it is their "moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system" without thinking twice about the fact the entire criminal justice system is racist to its core. Race isn't just another social justice issue that can be lumped in with other issues. Without examining the centrality of racial oppression in supporting American capitalism, specifically against black people, we will never be able to abolish racial inequality. Furthermore, we can't begin to talk about race without talking about class. Class-based politics apparently have no place in a movement they claim is committed to "providing intersectional education" or in their mission to "harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change." How exactly they plan to harness that "power" to create "transformative change" is the most revealing aspect of their ideology.

Essentially, the March's ideology snugly fits into the ideology of neoliberalism. They seemingly have no intention of challenging the neoliberal ideology that dominates our society. Instead, their game plan to fight for a more "inclusive" neoliberalism. You can call it intersectional neoliberalism. Ideologically, they believe that if they "channel their supporters' energy and enthusiasm to the ballot box next November" they will somehow achieve lasting "transformative change." In translation, this means that transformative change will come from all-hands-on-deck support for the Democratic Party, the same that was responsible for rigging the democratic primary against Bernie Sanders. It was the same party that nominated neoliberal war monger Clinton for presidency. It was Democrat Obama who was responsible for cementing the Wall Street bailouts, continuing Bush-era policies of domestic surveillance, the deportation of more people then every previous presidency combined, and the massive increase of military conflicts around the world. Yes, this is the same party that the Woman's March wants us to support.

According to the organizers, our ultimate power is derived from our ability to vote. However, by continuing to vote for Democrats, we are complicit is supporting the same unequal system that we should be trying to fight against. This is not to say that voting within itself is completely powerless. It can be an effective revolutionary tool if radical and progressive-minded people were to unite and form a revolutionary peoples' party or even just back third parties that already exist. Working-class people can't be expected to share the same party with the likes of Wall Street. Our interests are fundamentally in conflict and should be in opposition to Wall Street's interests. Marxist writer and thinker, Joe G Kaye, elaborates on this: "the two-party system is a SYSTEM, that the parties operate in tandem, that the role of the Democratic Party to be the lesser-of-the-two evils, to move to the left when the masses begin to become radicalized so as to prevent the formation of a true people's party. In that sense, the theory of the lesser-of-the-two evils is the greatest evil."

Despite the need for structural change, the Woman's March is mute when it comes to supporting the formation of a third party. They haven't even backed a third-party progressive like Jill Stein, who also happens to be a woman. Instead we are told that the best way to change the system is to continue to support it and lend credibility to it. Maybe if we play identity politics and elect candidates who look like us and share our "values," we are told, then we will be on the road to progress. The problems and limitations with identity politics is that it makes identity, not class, the central defining feature of one's politics. It was not Obama's racial identity that is responsible for leaving the system of mass incarceration intact, it was his class, and the class that he ultimately served, that shaped his political identity. It was tantamount to what writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has dubbed, "Black Faces in High Places." Taylor writes that "we have more black elected officials in the United States than at any point in American history. Yet for the vast majority of black people, life has changed very little. Black elected officials have largely governed in the same way as their white counterparts, reflecting all of the racism, corruption, and policies favoring the wealthy seen throughout mainstream politics."

This highlights the various limitations of voting solely based on a shared identity. Just because they might look like us doesn't mean they will be responsive to our working-class interests. In that regard, the Woman's March offers nothing new in terms of fundamentally changing our political or economic system. Historically, social movements have constantly put their fate in the hands of the Democratic Party only to watch as their movements wither away. Have we learned nothing from the aftermath of Jessie Jackson's failed presidential campaign and his Rainbow Push Coalition? This coalition led by Jackson firmly believed they could change the party from the inside. However, over the course of Bill Clinton's administration, poor and working-class people, especially for blacks, were faced with insurmountable, manufactured crises like the end of welfare and the expansion of mass incarceration. Writers Arun Gupta and Steve Horn have called the Democratic Party "the graveyard of social movements." Thus, if the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, supporting the strategy of the Woman's March is insane. They have become essentially (perhaps they were always) an extension of the Democratic Party. It's the same old lousy gift, this time wrapped in pink.

Thankfully, progressive voices have emerged to critique the structure, leadership, and direction of the Woman's March organization. In Los Angeles, the Palestinian American Women's Association pulled out of Women's March L.A in protest over the inclusion of actress Scarlett Johansson as a featured speaker. The star has made public her support of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, leading Palestinian activist Sana Ibrahim to say that the March's call for human rights "does not extend to Palestinian human rights." In Philadelphia, some black and brown women activists have called for other activists to boycott the march over the concerns that March organizers are collaborating with police. Community leader Megan Malachi from Philly REAL Justice, a coalition of local activist groups, has stated that "The Philadelphia Women's March has once again demonstrated their disconnect from the concerns of working-class black women and their families/communities." She went on to say that by coordinating with police, the Woman's March organizers "are ignoring local struggles against police terrorism and choosing to center the bourgeoisie aspirations of white feminism. Another tone deaf, epic fail."

Writer and activist Jamilah Lemieux echoed many of those same sentiments when last year she wrote "I don't know that I serve my own mental health needs by putting my body on the line to feign solidarity with women who by and large didn't have my back prior to November." It goes to show that even if the Woman's March is on its surface an all-encompassing, inclusive, woman-led movement, there is still serious debate about its direction among its own ranks. Not all women are equal, nor do they all share a common struggle. Let's not forget that 53 percent of white women voters cast their ballot for Trump. Many so-called "progressive" white women might not even be marching in the streets if Clinton were their president.

We can't continue to depend on the Democratic Party to protect us from the evils of the Republicans unless we want to be used as pawns in the two -party game. Poor and working-class people of all sexes and genders will never be liberated if we keep joining coalitions and parties with the very people who have vested interests in maintaining our oppression. It's

time to wake up and see that we are being herded into the trap that has kept us poor and exploited in the first place. It's time to say 'times up' to the Democratic Party and 'times up' for the two-party system.