Separating the different strands of New York City 'Women's March' activity has been a difficult undertaking this year, with a handful of similar-but-purportedly-different events planned for Saturday, January 19th. The coexistence of multiple demonstrations has sparked speculation that the women's movement lost steam to internal bickering—a stale and sexist trope that arguably oversimplifies a murky situation. Still, the whole thing is worth unpacking, because maybe you just want to know where in the heck you're supposed to show up, and when.

First, though, a note on how these marches function: Women's March, Inc.—the national group run by Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland, who spearheaded the 2017 Women's March that drew thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C. the day after Donald Trump's inauguration—has its own march scheduled, again in the capitol. Other organizers, including local Women's March chapters and assorted grassroots groups, plan sister marches: independent satellite actions that occur in tandem on the designated march day. (Seemingly, the Saturday closest to the original date: January 21, 2017.)

This year, as in both previous years, New York City's march has been coordinated by an organization called the Women's March Alliance, which bills itself as adamantly unaffiliated with Women's March, Inc. However, the city also has its own Women's March chapter—Women's March NYC—which planned its own rally this year.

With so much overlap in language—everyone seems to deploy some version of "Women's March" in their branding—and in messaging, the various relationships are difficult to untangle. Heading into this very crowded weekend, here's what you need to know.

There are three Women's March-related events on Saturday
Here, look, we made a helpful itinerary for you:

The Women's Unity Rally, brought to you by Women's March NYC and the New York Immigration Coalition
10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Foley Square

Women's March on NYC, brought to you by the Women's March Alliance (heretofore WMA)
10 a.m. to ???, entry points located at 72nd & Columbus, 72nd & Central Park, and for participants with disabilities and who use American Sign Language, at 61st & Broadway

Non-March for Disabled Women, brought to you by Rise and Resist with support from Women's March NYC
2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Grand Central Station

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Signs from the 2017 Women's March on NYC. (Sai Mokhtari/Gothamist)

What's the difference between these events?
The Unity Rally, according to Women's March NYC director Agunda Okeyo, will be equal parts celebratory and pragmatic. Women's March NYC brought together dozens of groups (including their co-chair, the New York Immigration Coalition, composed of 200 organizations advocating for immigrants) to create a policy platform in line with the Women's March Unity Principles. It touches on reproductive justice, immigrants' rights, environmental justice, disability rights—a "progressive wishlist and vision for 2019," Okeyo told Gothamist. The coalition has lined up celebrities, musicians, and politicians to speak on the issues presented in the platform.

Although it doesn't always feel like it, women have made a lot of gains in recent years, Okeyo explained: The New York State legislature counts 10 new women lawmakers this year, and with the IDC ouster at polls this fall, a legitimately Democratic majority. Meanwhile, a record number of women joined the U.S. Congress in 2019, and Democrats took back the House. These achievements deserve applause, Okeyo noted, but they also mean action time has arrived.

"We want to bring people back to understanding that this is a movement, and as much as we want to keep the energy high," she explained, "we also want to make sure people understand that ... we have work to do. 2020's coming up, nothing is promised, we have to make sure we're focused," both on a national and state level. Think of the Unity Rally as a politically actionable event, an unveiling of a progressive legislative agenda for New York. It has no planned march component.

The Women's March on NYC, meanwhile, will be the same rally-followed-by-mass-march model you've seen, and likely participated in, for the past two years. There will be speakers, there will (probably) be pussy hats, there will be a lot of grumpy scoffing as people grow impatient with the speeching and rattle the gates, there will be a period of cathartic slogan screaming. You know this drill! As always, the march is meant to highlight "the fundamental civil rights of women regardless of faith, sexual identity and preference, race, cultural or religious background, or political affiliation." At a press conference on Friday, WMA founder Katherine Siemionko said she anticipates around 100,000 participants, and declared this year's theme "your voice, your power"—NYC setting an example for the rest of the country that "we have to keep moving forward."

The Non-March for Disabled Women comes to you courtesy of Rise and Resist, in collaboration with local disability justice activist Jennifer Bartlett. Bartlett, whose cerebral palsy can make it difficult for her to walk, attended the original Women's March on NYC in 2017, but told Gothamist that a lack of signage and a lack of accommodations made the march prohibitively difficult for her to navigate. Having spoken with other people who had similar complaints about the accessibility efforts made at the march, Bartlett and Rise and Resist decided to hold a separate event specifically for people with disabilities, in solidarity with the Unity Rally. The Non-March for Disabled Women will be "indoors, warm, near an accessible elevator stop," Bartlett said, without marching, but with "access to food and bathrooms." It's intended to emphasize disability justice: That people with disabilities "deserve the same respect and opportunities as non-disabled people," as the event's Facebook page puts it.

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Leaders of Women's March, Inc., from left: Carmen Perez, Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, and Linda Sarsour. (Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock)

Why not merge these into a single, intersectional event?
Confusion about the specific nature of these various groups persists in part because everyone deploys the same "Women's March" wording. Yet the basic idea behind the Women's March movement involves local, grassroots groups independently coordinating marches on their own, standing in solidarity with the national organization, but not as part of it. The Women's March Alliance stands (or, stood) in support of the intersectional feminist platform popularized by Women's March, Inc. in 2017, but has lately worked to distance itself from the organization led by Mallory, Perez, Sarsour, and Bland.

The apparent reason: The recent allegations of anti-Semitism that have dogged Women's March, Inc.

Mallory and Perez have been accused of telling a colleague that "Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people" at a 2016 meeting, and of bullying a former co-founder over her Jewish faith. Additionally, Sarsour, Perez, and Mallory have been linked to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahn, whom the Anti-Defamation League has labeled "America's Leading Anti-Semite." The Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed Nation of Islam a hate group because of that ideology, and because of the NOI's virulently anti-LGBT rhetoric.

In February, Mallory appeared at a Saviour's Day event with Farrakahn, posting on social media from the venue. During his speech, Farrakahn called the "powerful Jews" his "enemy," and congratulated himself for pulling "the cover off of that Satanic Jew." He also acknowledged Mallory by name, and the association prompted widespread demands for an apology and disavowal of Farrakahn.

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Speaking to Gothamist, Sarsour emphasized that "the Women's March has unequivocally rejected anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia," and pointed to a series of statements posted to the Women's March homepage. The first, dated March 6th, reads: "Minister Farrakahn's statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women's March Unity Principles," and, "Anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and white supremacy are and always will be indefensible." Responding to the Saviour's Day incident directly, Mallory wrote an op-ed for News One, explaining that organizing obligates her to "go into difficult spaces," to work with people whose ideology she may find disagreeable, and that her record should speak for itself.

Many have voiced dissatisfaction with the leaders, who have not severed ties with Farrakahn, even as they reject his rhetoric. As a result, some regional chapters of the movement have edged away from the national organization in recent months. That would seem to be the case with the WMA.

So: about the "infighting"
The WMA did not directly address Gothamist's request for comment on its reported feud with Women's March, Inc., instead sending a link to their Friday press conference. Yet Siemionko has spoken to the NY Daily News and to amNY about the allegedly strained relations, saying Sarsour tried to strong-arm the national organization's way into planning the New York march. "Linda said, 'You put us on your leadership board or we'll hold a counter march,'" Siemionko told the Daily News. "And I said, 'I don't put up with bullying.'"

According to Sarsour, that's not how the conversation went at all. Sarsour says she approached Siemionko as an intermediary on behalf of Women's March NYC, which wanted to plan something for the 19th. The organizations set up a phone call for October 5th, which Sarsour described as "cordial," to discuss the proposal—not an ultimatum, and not an insinuation that any of the national leaders would take the reins in NYC, Sarsour said.

"We went to Katherine to ... see what it would look like if Women's March NYC chapter members would join a committee to organize the Women's March New York City march," she explained. She wanted to help a local chapter, run by women of color, get "a seat at the table so they can help make sure that their concerns, their interests that impact them in their communities are reflected," Sarsour continued, adding: "I think that's quite fair and just." According to Sarsour, Siemionko seemed amenable, and said she'd need a few days to get an answer from her board.

After follow-up emails and text messages (which Gothamist has reviewed, and which track with Sarsour's account) went unanswered over the next week, Sarsour texted Siemionko on October 13th, writing, "We haven't heard from you so we are assuming that the Alliance does not want to move forward with one March. Please let me know if that's accurate." Without any response, Sarsour told Women's March NYC to go ahead with their plans: "What am I supposed to say to black women, immigrant black women?" she said. "I can't say 'don't do a march,' that is not my place."

Asked to comment on Sarsour's version of events, the WMA sent Gothamist this statement: "Women's March Alliance has been honored to host the Women's March on New York City every year since its inception. At no point did the Women's March, Inc. local chapter in New York City reach out to work with Women's March Alliance. We don't even know who they are. We find it sad that Women's March, Inc. does not support women's rights and has attempted to divide New York City by a hosting a competing rally. On Saturday January 19th, there will be only one Women's March on NYC. That is the march hosted by Women's March Alliance, as it is every year."

Sarsour, meanwhile, made the same argument of Siemionko: That she seemed inclined to paint Women's March NYC as anti-Semitic by association, when in fact, Women's March NYC has worked with contingents from local Jewish communities in planning their Unity Rally.

For her part, Okeyo—recall, the director of Women's March NYC—has picked up on popular confusion about the two-march plan. Her chapter, she said, had tried to merge with WMA, and "they didn't want to or didn't respond." However, she added, "There's no feud [with the WMA] on my side." Rather, January 19th has been designated the day for action, with over 200 sister marches to occur nationwide. Women's March NYC didn't want to miss that.

Meanwhile, organizers behind the Non-March for Disabled Women say they've had a frustrating time coordinating with the WMA on concrete plans to increase not only accessibility, but also disability justice and inclusion at the march. Additionally, Bartlett says, her requests that the organization involve more people with disabilities in its planning process, on its board, and in leadership have not been given satisfactory acknowledgment. (In an email to Gothamist, Siemionko refuted this, writing that, "Our march is extremely inclusive and supportive of those with disabilities," ticking off a number of adjustments organizers had made, including: cordoning off a two-block area in front of the stage for people with disabilities, with a separate entrance; having "identifiable ASL interpreters on stage and around the march route"; wheelchair assistance; "speakers representing those with disabilities"; an accessible stage.) Bartlett, however, noted that access and disability justice constitute two separate issues.

In order to make sure everyone still has the opportunity to comfortably participate in Saturday's actions, Bartlett and Rise and Resist decided to simply hold a separate event focused on disability rights, and tailored to participants' needs. Their Non-March has the support of the local Women's March NYC chapter.

Which Women's March should I attend?
All of which is to say, you have options this year: As Okeyo pointed out, if the idea behind the day's activations is to celebrate the fact that women have choices, and to involve them in local activism, then people can simply pick the event that appeals to them most. It doesn't need to be a competition.

"I hope that we can try to single out ways that we can actually hear each other and also speak our truth," Okeyo said. "Because we're in this together and this is it. That's the energy we're trying to bring to the rally that we're going to have on the 19th. It's like, come on folks, let's get in here, let's roll up our sleeves, we're all family here. We come from different places, we might eat different foods, but we're still at the same table."