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Barbershop: The Future Of The Women's Movement


Now we're going to head into the Barbershop. That's where we invite interesting people to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And today, we wanted to dig deeper into the subject of women in leadership. And we were thinking about this because the 116th Congress, which was sworn in this week - if you even glance at the coverage, you could see that it is an historic Congress. Record numbers of women were seated, including the first Muslim women, the first Native American women, the first woman who identifies as bisexual. I mean, the list goes on.

And yet, trouble signs are emerging. The Women's March has become an annual protest since 2017, but it's hit some snags. There are accusations of anti-Semitism in the national leadership, and some marches around the country have been canceled because of internal disagreements or lack of funds. So, as we said, we thought this would be a good time to talk about how women are thinking about and taking leadership heading into 2019. With us now in our Washington, D.C., studios is Karen Finney. She was spokeswoman for the Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. She's now a political contributor at CNN.

Welcome, Karen. Thanks so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: With us from Dallas, Texas, is Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa. She was the founder of New Wave Feminists, which describes itself as a pro-life feminist organization.

Destiny, welcome back to you as well. Thanks so much for joining us.

DESTINY HERNDON-DE LA ROSA: Thank you for having me.

LINDA SARSOUR: And last, but certainly not least, organizer and activist Linda Sarsour. She is one of the national co-chairs of the Women's March on Washington.

Linda, welcome to you as well.

SARSOUR: Thank you.

MARTIN: So, Karen, let me start with you because, as we mentioned, there are a record number of women seated in the new Congress - 127 women compared with 110 in the previous Congress. Now, representation by itself is a big deal. But is there any indication that having more women is going to change the way Congress does its job?

FINNEY: Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, you know, there's a great deal of research, certainly from the corporate side, that when you have - that better decisions get made when there's more diversity around the table. And I think we've got a lot of women and diverse women. And so - and what that means is they're going to bring different perspectives to decision-making. So I think there's not a way that it can't have an impact, frankly.

And I think one of the things we're seeing that I hope - I feel like we're starting to see Nancy Pelosi and the leadership of the Democrat Party certainly trying to do this. You know, it means - when I say the decision-making table, that's really the key thing. It's got to be, let's bring in these diverse voices and faces when we're trying to make decisions on strategy of how we're going to pursue a piece of legislation or what ought to be in a piece of legislation. And certainly, I think the fact that women are - tend to be more collaborative leaders - we know that famous story from the budget impasse, where it was really the Republican and Democratic women of the Senate who kind of helped broker a deal.

So I think if you just look at the nature of women's leadership, the nature of the diverse experiences and backgrounds that these women are bringing to Congress and the opportunities that I think they will have, particularly under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, to be part of decision-making - like I said, I don't see how we couldn't - it couldn't have a positive impact.

MARTIN: Now, Linda, I'm going to you now because I noted that you certainly support elected leadership. You attended the swearing in ceremony for Rashida Tlaib on Thursday, the new congresswoman from Michigan. She's also the first Palestinian-American congressperson, one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. But I find myself kind of wondering, what do you see as your role as an activist now?

I was thinking about how the election of, say, Barack Obama as the first black president - I mean, he started as an outside activist, and then he decided to move to elected office. What do you see as your role now that these barriers to groups who haven't participated before are falling?

SARSOUR: I'm very proud of Rashida's win as the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress. And I see my role right now and as - have always seen my role as an outside activist who builds relationships with people on the inside of government. And I - this is an opportunity for us not just to be proud and celebrate the Rashida, the Alex, the Ayanna Pressleys, the Ilhan Omars, the Jahana Hayes.

It's an opportunity for us to also hold them accountable to our communities. It's not enough just to elect people of color and women of color and progressives. We need to make sure that they have a work plan and that they are - continue to align with the communities that helped get them to where they're at.

MARTIN: And, Destiny, really, it's the same question to you, is how do you see your role? I mean, I think many people may remember your story - that you founded the group New Wave Feminists, which opposes abortion rights and the death penalty. Then after the group became an official partner for the first Women's March, New Wave Feminists were removed from the list, but you still marched anyway. How do you see your role? I mean, you obviously agree with many of the march organizers on some issues. You disagree with others. How do you see your role right now?

HERNDON-DE LA ROSA: Absolutely. You know, we did march back in 2017 and 2018. We plan on marching again this year. It's always been a wonderful experience because there are so many platforms that we absolutely do agree on. You know, the focus of our group is to fight injustice and make sure that all human beings are not being humanized from the womb to the tomb. And so we plan on continuing that message into this January with the march in D.C. and really kind of calling some of the leadership with the women's march to speak out more.

You know, there has been that controversy with Louis Farrakhan, and they have said that they, you know, do not support anti-Semitism in any way. But I think we want it to go deeper than that. We want them to actually denounce Louis Farrakhan himself.

MARTIN: Well, Linda, what about that? I mean, we don't - I apologize to listeners who are not familiar with this entire controversy, but that in a nutshell is it - is that there are people who say they can no longer participate in the Women's March because they feel that you've not gone far enough to denounce Louis Farrakhan for comments that he has made that many people say are not just anti-Semitic but misogynist, anti-woman and so forth. And, you know, and as briefly as you can - I know it's complex - what do you say about that?

SARSOUR: It's actually not very complex at all. Minister Farrakhan absolutely says anti-Semitic, misogynistic and homophobic remarks. And we have unequivocally rejected all forms of racism and hate including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. What people need to understand - that is the organizers of the Women's March, those of us who are seasoned organizers - we are trained in Kingian (ph) nonviolence. And those are the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, and one of the most important teachings is go after the forces of evil, not those doing evil. And it is very complex and complicated to denounce black - to ask a black woman to denounce a black man.

And, in fact, it's actually from those people calling themselves feminists - we have to really step back and reflect that we are being asked to respond to and to apologize for something that we did not say, and that we are being asked to respond to something that a man says. We should be held responsible for our actions and our words, and our actions have been very clear. We have built the boldest and most intersectional platform, including one that is pro-choice. And when we say pro-choice, it is not pro-abortion. It is pro the woman - a woman's right to choose whether or not she wants to keep her child or does not want to keep her child for many, many reasons, and then we all know what those reasons are.

So we are proud of the organization that we are a part of, which is a startup organization. But we've only been around for two years, and we're still building. We are also flawed leaders. We are people who are going to make mistakes, and this movement has to have room for us - restorative justice, redemption and allowing people to learn and have the hard conversations.

And one of our missions is to eradicate all forms of hate. But in order to do that, we must have courageous conversations and understanding and actually understand what is in fact anti-Semitism. And this for me has been a blessing because it has allowed us to have these relationships and these conversations with Jewish leaders across the country. And we're very proud of that work and proud of the people who have called us in instead of calling us out.

MARTIN: So, Karen, let me ask you about this. How do you see this discussion? Because I could see on the one hand a lot of people who are in traditional political organizations would see something like this as messy, right? Now, Linda's saying, look - this is actually a blessing because...


MARTIN: ...This gives us a chance to actually have some hard conversations. I was curious - as a person who's spent much of your adult life trying to get people elected, how do you see it?

FINNEY: (Laughter) Well, look - I'm also someone who considers herself an activist on the inside because, like I say, you know, we've got to have more women at these tables. You know, I think this is an important conversation to have, but I think there's a couple of things that I think we need to do here. I think we need to separate out what is happening with the Women's March as an organization and as an event from what is happening with feminism and the women's movement in this country.

MARTIN: And what - how do you see that?

FINNEY: And the way I see that is that, as a movement, we are becoming a - intersectional with - you know, I happen to be biracial. I don't - some people would consider that intersectional. Point being (laughter), you know, there's lots of labels we can use and words we can use. But the point is, we need to - we are expanding as a movement of women in terms of how we fight for our rights, where we fight for our rights and the rights that we're fighting for. And I think, you know, that growth is important.

And if you - you know, there are a number of different groups, and we do need to have room for different types of groups who have different agendas. I think, with regard to the march itself, you know, that is a place where I think as an organization, they get to say, here's who we are. Here's our platform. Here's what we support. And people can decide if that's right for them or not.

MARTIN: Are you going?

FINNEY: I haven't decided yet, to be honest.

MARTIN: Really?

FINNEY: (Laughter) Because...

MARTIN: Because...

FINNEY: Only because it's the first weekend in January, and I have - and I'm still kind of getting back into, you know...


FINNEY: ...My life.

MARTIN: All right.

FINNEY: I just got back from vacation yesterday. But I think it's really important, though - there's one thing that I think is the most important. Let's not shy away from having these conversations...


FINNEY: ...Because...


FINNEY: Too often, they get - you know, we get told we can't because, oh, that's racist, or it's this-ist (ph). And if we - you know, the greatest challenge our country has is going to be our - is our diversity and how we learn to live together.


FINNEY: So I think we've got to have these conversations.

MARTIN: All right. And we're - and I'm sorry we don't have more time for this one. Let's get back together in the future and keep talking about this.

That's Karen Finney, longtime political consultant, political contributor at CNN, Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the Women's March on Washington, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the founder of the group New Wave Feminists.

Thank you all so much for starting the conversation.

SARSOUR: Thank you.


(SOUNDBITE OF GOLD PANDA'S "MARRIAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.