On Saturday, January 21, what began as a Facebook post following the election of Donald Trump materialized into a series of protests across the country and even the world. The Women’s March drew an estimated 3.3 million people in over 500 cities in the U.S., and 5 million people worldwide — a much higher number than organizers estimated. The marches may just be the biggest demonstration in U.S. history. Flavorwire staffers weigh in on the significance of the march and the challenges that lie ahead.
Lara Zarum: I came home after the march in New York on Saturday feeling elated, and then woke up on Sunday feeling doomed all over again. I think everyone who attended a march knows that this is just one step toward mobilizing the millions of people who oppose the Trump administration. We can’t be satisfied and luxuriate in the comfort of those pictures of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children crowding the streets of cities across the country and the world. But the day of mobilization — apparently the biggest protest in U.S. history — left me feeling hopeful that we can continue to show up in person and not just over social media. By doing so, we’re insisting that we won’t be ignored or brushed off as “fake news” or denied by Sean Spicer.
Moze Halperin: I exchanged thoughts with friends about the march in NYC, and one thing that kept coming up was the lack of radicalism — which was less a criticism of the march and more a reflection of the type of energy one wants to exert personally. The New York march, for example, felt truly about camaraderie and intergenerational inclusion. It was a cushy, mainstream march that lacked ideological specificity beyond “we’re not okay with this.” And yet the most powerful thing right now is to show the quantifiable immensity of people’s refusal to accept the inhumanity of this regime. It needed to be a march that older people — who maybe hadn’t made an “activist” statement in decades — and toddlers could come out to.
Sarah Seltzer: The lack of what we think of as “radicalism” in D.C., where I marched after waking up at 4.30 am to travel, was noticeable. I’m a protest veteran and I saw no large groups of single-issue protesters who often glom on to NYC marches. Instead, the rally was dominated by groups of 4-10 people who had clearly traveled together: families, friends, churches, local political organizations. It had a distinctive “mom” vibe, as Anne Helen Petersen wrote: snack bags and extra layers, creative signs and knit hats. It was notably white; not more so than typical pro-choice marches — but notably. But does this mean it’s not “radical”? Maybe it’s more radical in a broader sense to have soccer moms screaming “Fuck Trump!” next to antifa queer youth than it would be otherwise. Yes, many marchers should have confronted their white sisters earlier, maybe they were asleep in a cloud of privilege. But by showing up at the march they were taking the first step towards a confrontation, an awakening. They were proclaiming, as Moze said, “This is not okay.” They were showing their communities, and the administration, the face of resistance.
Moze Halperin: Yes. In a regime that lost the popular vote yet claims to be a people’s movement, it’s necessary to show them again and again that they do not represent some overarching notion of “the people” at all. Which brings me to the catch-22: Because the lead-up to the march emphasized a reaction to Trump’s sexism and the threat to reproductive rights, it seemed that a lowest common denominator approach of neoliberal white feminism was a large presence, albeit by no means the only voice — there were, thankfully, people representing pretty much every one of the multitude of issues one might take with Trumpism. I’m confident, then, that this first march was an airing out of grievances over what we saw in Trump’s campaign — and that as he starts approaching certain issues as president, the protests will become more specific.
Sarah Seltzer: Already on Twitter I’m seeing the kind of sometimes-contentious dialogue that always occurs when new white women participate in feminist activism and get called out for their privilege or previous lack of participation. The inevitable defensiveness that arises from internal critique is frustrating, but I also think that this march has potential: the unapologetically explicit language, the way it welcomed protest novices and encouraged them to be angry, unlike groups like Panstuit Nation that mistakenly limited themselves to uplifting personal content. I’ll also note I also saw a lot of explicit intersectionality at the march. There were so many signs that had a variable smorgasboard of slogans in one place: “Black Lives Matter.” “Love is Love.” “Science is Real” “Immigrants make America great” and so forth. I kept hearing the chant: “no hate/no fear/everyone is welcome here.” At the very least, it was the most self-conscious attempt to be inclusive I’ve seen in a while, politically as well as demographically.
And there was a fiery quality too. When the DC contingent was told that our entire march route from the Capitol to the White House was jammed, we suddenly didn’t look that different from a crew of kids from Occupy; by the tens of thousands, we decided to take to the streets for a spontaneous march up the Inaugural Parade route that was bigger than the inaugural parade. Until then, I had been worried it would lack catharsis. But then the mood began to crest and I have to say that despite its ever-so bougie flavor, the march became, to use the parlance of our president-elect, high-energy. It was so massive we created an endless wall of sound and signs, down every single side street and avenue for miles. After making it all the way to the White House, my mom and I tried to exit the throng but we essentially couldn’t; the march had taken over all of Downtown D.C. When I close my eyes I still see images from Saturday.
Tom Hawking: Sadly, I didn’t attend the NY march — I tend to stay away from protests, because getting arrested in the U.S.A. if you’re not a U.S. citizen (which I’m not) is no-one’s idea of a good time. As such, I don’t want to take up too much time or space with my opinion, but I will say this: for all that it’s easy to quibble with certain aspects of the marches (the pink hats, the gender essentialism, the questions about the overwhelming whiteness of the attendees given the inescapable fact that the majority of white women who voted did so for Donald Trump), we shouldn’t underestimate or undermine the fact that an unprecedented number of Americans just turned out to protest the President’s inauguration. If — if — the people who marched, and the many more who didn’t but supported the marchers’ cause, remain politically engaged, we should be rid of Trump in 2020. The challenge now is to limit the damage he does between now and then.
Moze: We cannot see this as anything but an immense accomplishment — because it was historically immense. Now, it’s a matter of translating what you referred to, Lara, as the “spectacle” into the everyday. It’s very cool that the march organizers are emphasizing the continuance of an overwhelming wave of collectivized dissent through their website with 10 actions/100 days, and if everyone who marched can commit to that pledge, or something like it, it would be rather hard to ignore. That said, I was pretty horrified by the Spicer talk — because while that did show a transparent weakness, it also showed the administration’s total willingness to get viscous in their misinformation; the harder the anti-Trump masses fight, the harder they will, too. So it’s a matter of never letting them wholly counterbalance it, of continuing to try to make this movement larger, while simultaneously fostering smaller, more specific, more radical movements.
Lara Zarum: I agree that we can’t settle for a kind of glamorized “white feminism” in place of truly progressive, inclusive politics. I’ve also seen a lot of social media posts and web articles by people who feel the march was not radical enough, or didn’t do enough to acknowledge less mainstream forms of resistance. But I would caution against splintering this huge movement so soon after it’s started by concentrating on what keeps us apart rather than what holds us together. I don’t mean that in a “Let’s-just-all-hold-hands-and-sing-Kumbaya” kind of way; but the impulse to point out what the march didn’t and surely could never do, even while people were still out protesting, makes me nervous that the opposition won’t be able to come together to elect an alternative to Trump — just like left-wing voters weren’t able to do in the election itself.
Moze: That’s a really good point, and that’s why I think it’s important for people to straddle belonging to and showing up for this large, nationwide movement while also choosing one or two issues to really fight for (by volunteering/joining groups) in a more vehement, clear and specific way. If we want a movement of dissent to grow, and perhaps even sway some people who initially saw Trump favorably — because these people aren’t going away — we have to also present alternatives to the mainstream Democratic status quo. As a recent Jacobin article emphasized, I think this is a good time to show that we can look to the future (for me, the idea would be stressing the potentials of democratic socialism), and that we’re also willing to do away with obsolete systems — but that doing so doesn’t come along with the scapegoating, hate, and corporate hypocrisy that Trump’s ersatz boasts about being “anti-systemic” and “swamp-draining” entail.
Sarah Seltzer: Can the momentum be sustained? Can it translate into action? These are the questions that always get asked, nervously, after an exciting demonstration. My answer is: sustained mass movements always make a difference eventually; already, the media narrative of resistance is bolstered by a few million factors. Already, people like me who were tired and depressed after the election feel like we’ve been woken up from our stupor of despair. I won’t go gently into this good night of fascism; neither, I imagine, will most of the people I marched with. People are going to go back to the streets because they want a hit of dopamine in a dark time; my hope is those who sat on the sidelines, criticized the organizers or loved every second of the march alike will all be inspired to expand their own activism in the weeks to come.