Black Lives Matter–Los Angeles Excluded from Women’s March Los Angeles
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles was excluded from the 4th Annual Women’s March in Los Angeles. WMLA did not invite Black Lives Matter to participate, failed to respond to an email request for inclusion, and further refused speaking time during a subsequent telephone conversation. This marks the first time that BLMLA will not participate and is the culmination of ongoing disagreement and tension where Black Lives Matter and some of our members, including children, have experienced significant harm at the hands of WMLA. Beyond the specific harms, BLMLA has been compelled to challenge the liberal White-supremacy practiced by WMLA: the same kind of anti-Black feminism employed by White and privileged women during the suffrage and liberal feminist eras.
While some powerful Black women political leaders have been invited and their voices are important, as currently scheduled, the stage will be devoid of any Black women grassroots leaders. This reflects a fundamental difference in approach. In past years, BLMLA has utilized the WMLA space to inspire on-the-ground action. It has always been our desire for the masses of women, girls, femmes, and allies assembled under the banner of the Women’s March to engage in actual work that transforms the world, rather than gather for a feel-good parade.
At a time when Los Angeles police continue to target Black people at five times our population share, when officers are falsifying evidence to place us in gang databases, when the County serves as the largest jailer in the nation, and is in the midst of an all-out homeless crisis where the vast majority are Black, WMLA’s exclusion of Black Lives Matter means that they are blatantly engaging in anti-Blackness. A claim made in conversations with Women’s March representatives is that because their leadership is Brown claims of anti-Blackness are unfounded. However, there are countless examples of aspirational Whiteness and anti-Blackness among women of color. One need not be White to advance White-supremacy.
What BLMLA is experiencing does not stand in isolation. Black Lives Matter DC is also experiencing similar challenges with the march in Washington, and recently released a statement. Ally groups, including Af3irm, have experienced harm by WMLA in the past. There is also the backdrop of Islamophobia and anti-Blackness which targeted Linda Sarsour, Zahra Billoo, and Tamika Mallory. While Black Lives Matter is not calling for an all-out boycott of the Women’s March, it is imperative that we share this experience in hopes of inspiring those who claim to believe in freedom and justice to actually work towards it, beginning with the dismantling of their own anti-Blackness. We invite Women’s March Los Angeles to follow through on their previous commitments, engage in intersectional feminist work throughout the year, and employ practices that lift up Black women, who stand at the bottom of virtually every social, political, and economic measure.
Not the first time
This is not the first disagreement between Black Lives Matter and WMLA. In 2017, the first year of the march, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles was invited to participate, but told that only one speaker could appear on stage. We refused this restriction because we practice group-centered, rather than celebrity-style, leadership. The BLMLA team, which included a spokesperson, youth, and the families of those who were killed by police took the stage to invite attendees to move beyond an anti-Trump moment and to vision and build a truly free and just world.
In 2018, BLMLA was, again, invited, but also learned that the WMLA included Zionists and individuals who supported the state of Israel at a time when Palestinian women and girls were being killed. Many of our allies boycotted the March. Rather than cancelling, BLMLA decided to use the space to bring awareness by having Black Lives Matter-Youth Vanguard co-founder and Black Muslim 14-year-old organizer, Thandiwe Abdullah, read the Movement 4 Black Lives plank on Palestine.
Following the march Thandiwe was falsely accused by WMLA leadership of making specific, violent, anti-Semitic threats during her speech. Such allegations are not only traumatic, especially for a child, but dangerous given the current regime’s “Black identity extremist” designation and its targeting of Muslims. WMLA’s claim was proven false and their leadership agreed to write a letter of apology. Two years later, no letter was ever provided. For the 2019 March, a well-known BLMLA member was invited to speak, but was unavailable and suggested other BLMLA members. We had to negotiate and advocate for BLMLA to be represented.
This year, when asked why BLMLA was being excluded, Women’s March leadership claimed that they were attempting to make space for new voices. However, when asked what Black women organizers were invited to speak, the only names that were offered were those who had spoken in previous years, including one of their paid consultants.
A second claim was made that they were focusing on electoral politics. However, Black Lives Matter is part of a coalition of organizations supporting Measure R, one of the most important ballot initiatives in Los Angeles history, with far-reaching national implications, directly addressing the system of mass incarceration.
BLMLA has been encouraging Angelenos to remove District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her refusal to prosecute murderous and corrupt police officers for more than two years. The all-volunteer network is also entrenched in other important electoral justice efforts around voting, voter registration, and elevating Black issues in the 2020 Presidential race through #WhatMatters2020.
Melina Abdullah, Black Lives Matter-LA