Trying to succeed where the Women's March struggled, a new progressive group hopes to master 'intersectionality'

Kadia Tubman
Reporter

Three of the most prominent women in progressive politics are among the leaders of a new network that hopes to succeed where other women’s groups have struggled in the past: to organize on the basis of “intersectionality.”

The organization, which calls itself Supermajority, aims to galvanize at least 2 million women over the next year to become political leaders within their communities.

Its mission statement calls for “mobilizing a multiracial, intergenerational community that will fight for gender equity together.”

It is led by former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance Ai-jen Poo, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Alicia Garza.

“Intersectionality,” now a popular term within the progressive movement, was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to institute the principle that all forms of prejudice — and the struggle to oppose them — are linked and cannot be fought separately.

Before they launched Supermajority in April, Garza, Richards and Poo traveled the country on a listening tour and found many women, Garza said, who “weren’t familiar with the range of existing efforts for organizations that are supporting women, and they are living in places where there’s not a lot of infrastructure; [where] there isn’t necessarily a Planned Parenthood or National Domestic Workers Alliance or even a chapter of Black Lives Matter.”

From left: Ai-Jen Poo, Alicia Garza and Cecile Richards. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Getty Images)

Supermajority aims to provide that infrastructure and is crafting a “New Deal for Women,” a legislative agenda to mobilize voters in the primary and general elections. The program, which the group intends to roll out by this fall, calls for an intersectional movement uniting women across socioeconomic, political and racial lines.

Supermajority, Garza told Yahoo News, is “an organization that believes that women should have control over their own bodies. We are an organization that believes that women deserve to be paid equally to men and so on and so forth. If you share those values, this is a home for you. If you don’t believe those things, there’s lots of infrastructures, institutions that people can join. But for us, we fundamentally believe that there are millions of women across the country who fundamentally share the same values and our values are the values of the majority of the country. That’s really who we’re focused on, the majority. That’s why we’re calling ourselves the Supermajority.

“We’re not the first organization ever to attempt to give oxygen to the fire that women are spreading across the country,” said Garza. “But what we are is willing and ready to make new mistakes.

“We’re very clear that we can’t afford to leave anybody behind, and if we don’t pay attention to the things that keep women separate we actually diffuse the power that we have,” she said, referring to Supermajority’s leadership. “And for us coming from different sectors and organizing women who live together in communities but may not exist together in organizations or in movements, we’re all very clear that we have a chance to do it right.”

Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, serves as a panelist for “The Resistance, an Intersectional Strategy Session” in 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Earl Gibson III/WireImage)

The Women’s March, which began in 2017, also had the goal of uniting women of all backgrounds but fragmented this year, in part over the reluctance of its current leaders to publicly denounce and cut ties with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Linda Sarsour, one of the national co-chairwomen of the Women’s March, says the concept didn’t work out.

“We at the Women’s March tried intersectionality, and we were the group that said we’re going to do it right, and we’re going to defy our women of color elders who told us, ‘We did this with the white woman before and it doesn’t work,’” Sarsour told Yahoo News.

The formation of the Women’s March, said Sarsour, is a “very simple story.” After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, “white women started a Facebook page, and they called it the Million Women’s March.”

“These women started this Facebook page, but in order for this Facebook page to be translated into tangible, actual organizing, into actual marches, it required women of color leadership,” said Sarsour. “That’s when me, Carmen [Perez] and Tamika [Mallory] were called to come to the Women’s March. We were the only organizers, like actual seasoned organizers. Everyone else was a fashion entrepreneur. They worked in tech. They were yoga teachers. We had a woman who was a chef. Everyone had a different profession, and we were the ones that came in with the organizing background.”

The first Women’s March was a day after Trump’s inauguration. Sarsour and her co-chairs set out an agenda to harness the energy of the millions of women who took to the streets and turn it into political power. They, along with local, grassroots chapters, organized events to get women into office and voters to the polls.

From left: March organizers Bob Bland, Linda Sarsour, Tamika D. Mallory and Carmen Perez onstage during the Women’s March on Jan. 19 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)

“We watched the impact of activism of people who’ve never once went to a march, never called their member of Congress, all of a sudden engaging in activism at a level that we hadn’t seen in at least the last 20 years,” recounted Sarsour. “And then seeing in 2018 us winning back the House, putting over 110 women in Congress. I’m not saying that’s all Women’s March, but absolutely the Women’s March set the foundation for all of these things to happen.”

While Sarsour says the Women’s March was “heavily targeted by the right wing in America,” it also faced sharp criticism from its side of the political spectrum. The organization’s feminist pink pussy hats were called out as exclusionary to transgender women, who don’t have female reproductive organs. Its plan for women to strike as “Day Without a Woman” didn’t account for women who can’t afford to skip a day at work. And its national leaders’ association with Farrakhan, who is notorious for anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT statements, led to demands for Sarsour and her co-chairs step down — and caused many women to break away from the national chapter.

Sarsour says the Women’s March tried to be a space for all women, to be intersectional, but that “this never worked before” because when issues arose outside of gender equality, like racism or immigration, it made people uneasy.

“If another group wants to attempt it,” said Sarsour, “that must mean that they don’t want to have the hard conversations, because when we had the hard conversations, it was really uncomfortable and difficult for people.”

She said she didn’t know what Supermajority’s objective and goals were. And she noted the lack of Muslim representation in the group’s launch video.

When asked if in an era of divisiveness that’s not solely centered around politics but also identity, women need for political groups to represent everyone, or rather specific identities like veterans, women of color or conservatives, Sarsour said, “I wholeheartedly believe that we can’t organize just as women.

“There has to be specific messaging and an issue prioritization based on identity groups” she said. “Because when you ask a black woman what her top priority issues are versus a white woman versus a Muslim woman versus an undocumented woman, you’re going to get ... different answers.”

Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, speaks at the 2016 AOL Makers conference at Terranea Resort in California. (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Garza thinks intersectionality is still a goal worth pursuing, even if mistakes are made along the way to reaching it.

“Over the last few years, people have come to talk about intersectionality in a way that is not really accurate,” said Garza. “We started to talk about intersectionality as having one of every person from every group. And that’s not intersectionality. That’s diversity.

“Intersectionality,” continued Garza, “is seeing who we are and making sure that nobody gets left behind because of who we are. So that means that we’ve got to make sure that there’s room for black Jewish women. We have to make that there is room for black Muslim women. And we have to make sure that there is room for immigrant trans women.”

Otherwise, the seasoned activist added, “our movements would look like they have in the past where white women got together to try to get the right to vote and excluded black women.”

Aimee Allison, who founded the political network of women of color She the People in 2018, agreed with Supermajority’s mission “to coalesce, to build a new multiracial, inclusive coalition, that includes everybody — but it has to be led by new people.”

“After 2016 where it was finally acknowledged that the majority of white women are conservative and vote Republican and supported Trump as well as supporting Republicans who themselves have an agenda, a very regressive anti-woman, anti-people of color agenda, it was very important to call out the strong leadership that women of color can show to the country,” Allison told Yahoo News.

Women overall supported Hillary Clinton in the election, but 53 percent of all white female voters chose Trump.

“When white women are looking for a political home — those who don’t support Trump — I say follow women of color, build in coalition with women of color, but follow women of color in this moment,” she added.

“Efforts like Supermajority to train organizers is an effort that the country needs,” said Allison. “We need voter expansion. We need to build our bench and train a new set of candidates. There are a lot of different organizations that are needed, and I don’t believe in ‘either-or’ because that’s zero-sum game because that is how we got in this mess in the first place.”

Another group building their “bench” are women who’ve served in the military and are now serving in office. Earlier this month, four congresswomen launched the Service First Women's Victory Fund, a campaign to elevate the voices of veteran women.

When they also formed the bipartisan Servicewomen and Women Veterans Caucus last week, Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a Navy veteran who is one of the members of the Victory Fund, said in a statement, “We come together today to establish this caucus because we don’t want to be the last to fill these shoes. When I served as a nuclear-trained Surface Warfare Officer, there weren’t many women who served alongside me, but that is changing rapidly. I look forward to seeing the next generation of women veterans in Congress.”

A poll of 1,000 women in March showed that despite the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which were formed to oppose sexual assault and harassment of women; the nationwide marches; and the record number of women elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, there are women who do not feel seen or heard or represented by the women’s power movement.

Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood. (Photo: Cliff Owen/AP)

A grassroots group of Minnesota women called “Trump Women 2020” marched two weeks ago in support of the current administration, “celebrating what President Trump has done for the women of Minnesota and other states,” saying he’s improved the employment rate.

And although nearly a quarter of all members of the House are women, among Republicans it’s less than one in 10.

When asked in an interview with “Through Her Eyes” podcast host Zainab Salbi what Supermajority planned to do differently to avoid the pitfalls of organizations like the Women’s March when it came to the complexities of intersectionality, Richards answered, “There are always going to be complexities. So I don’t want to say that it’s going to be easy.

“But,” she continued, “we also absolutely explicitly from the beginning want this to be both multiracial and intergenerational. And that’s why it’s been so important to have partners that come from different walks of life.”

Salbi asked Richards if Supermajority’s summer listening tour will include conservative or Republican women.

Richards responded saying “conservatives” was “kind of a loaded term,” but that “if they support women’s rights, absolutely [they can join the Supermajority’s initiative].”

“There is a real opportunity with Supermajority to have conversations that cross party lines and, in fact, to say, frankly, the political system writ large isn’t being too friendly to women,” she said. “And that’s really a fundamental reason why women need to organize together.”

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