The organizers of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. have dropped their application to trademark the phrase “Women’s March,” a move that could put an end to at least one debate roiling the movement.
Women’s March Inc.—run by activists Bob Bland, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez—abandoned their two-year quest for a trademark on March 20, according to records from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The office officially entered a judgment against the organization on March 27.
"The trademark process has become a distraction from important work in our movement," Women's March Inc. told The Daily Beast in a statement. "Therefore, we withdrew our application so our organization and the movement can go back to the work of building women's political power."
Jaquie Algee, an organizer of the Women’s March Chicago, which is unaffiliated with the D.C. organization, said she was “thrilled” at the decision to drop the application.
“The women’s march—both the name and even more so the movement—was never owned by a single group of people,” Algee said in a statement. “Hundreds and thousands of women have organized, led, and marched since the very first march in 2017, and the women’s march belongs to all of us.”
Women’s March Inc. first filed for a trademark in March 2017, just months after more than 3 million women gathered to protest Donald Trump’s election at hundreds of sites around the world. While most of these marches were executed independently, the D.C. organizers quickly moved to unify them under shared guidelines and branding. They began recognizing local marches as official chapters and sending letters to unaffiliated groups asking them to drop the phrase “women’s march” from their name.
At the time, Sarsour said the intention was to “maintain a unified message and unified platform.”
“There’s nothing that we are doing that other organizations that have decentralized networks haven’t done,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s a larger conversation about how does an organization continue to operate with decentralized leadership and autonomous chapters across the country.”
But the move chafed local march organizers who wanted to continue their work independently, especially as allegations of anti-Semitism rocked the D.C. organization. Some local marches even united to form their own organizations, like March On—a political activism group formed by former Women’s March D.C. organizer Vanessa Wruble.
Last September, three local marches and March On filed suit to block the trademark. In January, on the third anniversary of the women’s march, multiple cities hosted simultaneous marches—one hosted by a Women’s March Inc. chapter and another hosted by a local organization.
One such local organization is Women's March Alliance, which hosted the first women's march in New York City and continues to organize independent rallies to this day. The group was among those that sued Women's March Inc. to block the trademark application.
"It was expensive and time consuming but a needed victory for the people," Women's March Alliance president Katherine Siemionko told The Daily Beast of the suit. "The truth of who created the global Women's March got out anyway. Four women claiming ownership for the work of hundreds who acted independently lost. Greed lost. 'Women's March' is not for sale."
It is unclear what motivated Women’s March Inc. to drop the application, or whether they would attempt to refile. Representatives did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. A letter from the patent appeals board says the group abandoned its application “without the written consent of every adverse party to the proceeding,” and that judgment would be entered against them.
The group has been hounded by criticism in recent months after former members accused Mallory and Perez of making anti-Semitic comments. Mallory has also refused to back down from her support of controversial minister Louis Farrakhan, drawing criticism from the Jewish and LGBTQ community. The Democratic National Committee and hundreds of other sponsors pulled their support from the group ahead of the 2019 march.
Vanessa Wruble was among the former members to make allegations of anti-Semitism last year. She told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that she was relieved to learn the group had dropped its application.
"I think the movement has always been a movement of the people and I think that to trademark the name is antithetical to that spirit," she said. "I think it’s great that the name now truly does officially belong to everyone, as it should be."