This Women’s March Leader Takes Inspiration from Her Rabbi Mom

On January 21, 2017, history was made. It’s estimated over 5 million people worldwide took to the streets — many donning pink pussy hats — for the Women’s March, which advocated for women’s rights, human rights, LGBTQ rights, healthcare reform, and so much more. As the anniversary march approaches this Saturday, we’re checking in with one of the women behind this massive effort.

Sophie Ellman-Golan is the Deputy Head of Communications for the Women’s March, as well as a member leader on the Campaign for Police Accountability and Legislative Working Group at Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. She shared with us what it’s like to work for the organization, where her activist spirit stems from, and of course, her favorite bagel.

When did you get involved with the Women’s March and what compelled you to join the team?

I joined the Women’s March team in November of 2016. I’d known and marched with Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez in the movement for black lives and against police violence. When I learned they were co-chairing the march I knew it was going to be something special — because those three make magic together. So I got in touch and offered to volunteer my time. Next thing I know, I’m given an email and sent calendar invites for daily calls. Suffice it to say, it quickly became a full-time job.

What does your typical work day look like?

Every day is different. One day I’m on back-to-back calls with state organizers, activists, journalists, you name it. Another day I’m running around NYC staffing interviews, meeting with other organizers, live-tweeting a protest, and writing remarks and talking points.

Your bio says you are part of the #JewishResistance. What does that mean to you, and how does it come into your everyday life?

I first became an organizer when I joined Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, a New York City-based organization that organizes lefty Jews to take action against racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and economic exploitation. JFREJ is one of many progressive Jewish organizations that have been active participants in the movement for black lives, and have formed a #JewishResistance network of Jewish activists who resist white supremacy, whether it’s based in the White House, lurking in local police departments, or manifesting in our workplaces, daily lives, and even our own implicit biases. There’s a long strong history of radical Jewish activism, from the Bund to the Jewish participation in the civil rights movement to today’s #JewishResistance — the resurgence of this legacy.

As for how it comes into my daily life? As a Jewish woman organizing on the left in both Jewish and non-Jewish spaces, I engage in regular conversations about anti-blackness in Jewish communities and anti-Semitism on the left. None of these conversations are easy, but having them is how we build a stronger movement, and stronger relationships between activists of different backgrounds.

Do you think your Jewish upbringing affects the work you do now?

My mother is a rabbi and professor, and also an activist. As civil rights activist and Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory has said of my mother, her pulpit is “in the streets.” My mom, Rabbi Barat Ellman, has always infused in her Jewish teaching and mothering activism and social justice. I think I resisted my Jewish identity for a while (#InternalizedAntisemitism) but reconnected with it when I found my political home within the Jewish organization my mother had been pressing me to join for years — JFREJ.

How has the recent #MeToo movement affected the efforts of the Women’s March?

On January 21, 2017, women collectively demanded that the world “hear our voice.” Those voices are being heard now. I think the #MeToo movement is galvanizing all women, but also demonstrating how the presence or absence of institutional and social power impacts the way survivors are able to speak out and define justice for themselves. That’s something Women’s March has always emphasized — that women experience sexism and misogyny differently depending on our race, class, sexual orientation, gender presentation, age, disability, religion, immigration status, occupation, incarceration, and more. We have to talk about all of these factors when addressing sexual violence, and we will continue to do so.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I went through different phases, from princess to librarian to archeologist, all inspired by various books I’d read.

What do you suspect will be different about this year’s march, as compared to last year’s?

This year, the expectations are higher and the spotlight is even bigger. So many people have high hopes for us, and the shoes we built are big ones to fill. But we’re focused. Our national event this year — a rally in Las Vegas — will kick off a national voter mobilization and registration tour called Power to the Polls. Last year, we built our movement power. This year, we turn it into electoral power.

What has been the most surprising aspect of working for the Women’s March?

I’m still surprised daily. I still can’t believe I get to be part of the organization on the front lines of today’s feminist movement, and part of the team that has built the first truly intersectional wave of the feminist movement.

Who are the Jewish women you most look up to?

My mother. She has so many qualities I strive to emulate, but the one I admire most is the way she truly tries to understand other people’s perspectives.

Please describe your ideal bagel.

Everything bagel, soft on the inside, no skimping on the cream cheese.

Photo by Kisha Bari

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