A group of local citizens took a bus all the way to Washington DC this weekend. They were a small piece of a worldwide marching movement on Saturday. Will more than a million women marching make a difference?
The day after the inauguration there were women’s marches in all 50 states, in countries around the world, on every continent, even in Antarctica. About three times as many people came out in Washington DC to protest Trump’s inauguration as had celebrated it the day before.
This worldwide demonstration began with one woman’s Facebook post. Rebecca Shook in Hawaii wondered if women could march in favor of women’s rights during the inauguration. She created an event page for the march, and within 24 hours 10,000 people confirmed their participation. Shook was joined by experienced organizers who named the event the Women’s March on Washington, honoring the continuing inspiration of the 1963 civil rights protest.
As the number of anticipated participants ballooned past 100,000, women across the country who could not manage a trip to Washington organized their own local marches. Over 400 Sister Marches took place in every state. There were more on the West Coast, because fewer people could get to DC: 45 in California, 20 in Oregon, 21 in Washington. No place in America was far from a march: there were 8 in Maine, 8 in Idaho, and 18 in Alaska. Over 1000 people gathered at the Old Capitol Plaza in Springfield.
Many protests were very local. The 80- and 90-year-olds at my mother-in-law’s retirement complex braved the Minneapolis cold to wave signs at passing cars.
The worldwide significance of this election was shown by the number of international marches, from Australia to Austria, Botswana to Zimbabwe, 15 in the UK and 20 in Mexico. More than half a million people in the US and another half million around the world gathered in this unprecedented worldwide signal of solidarity.
Right now far more Americans disapprove of Trump than like him. Not only did Clinton win far more votes than Trump, but Democratic Senate candidates won more votes than Republicans. Republican House candidates won 51% of the popular vote, but now have 55% of House members. Neither the Republican Party nor Trump won any “mandate” to remake the nation in their ideological image, but they have the votes to put into place a minority program.
It is possible that Trump will accomplish none of the dangerous, unconstitutional, and frankly stupid things he has threatened: build a wall against Mexico, start a trade war with China, persecute women who have abortions, deport millions of undocumented people, favor Putin’s Russia over NATO, penalize media for printing unflattering but truthful stories, eliminate regulations which keep our food, water and air healthy, repeal the extension of health insurance to millions of Americans. Conservative Republicans are nearly as worried as liberal Democrats about what policies Trump will promote.
Trump is dangerous in his ignorance about the world beyond his narrow circle of experience and in his disdain for reality when it seems to get in the way of his desires. His immediate response to unpleasant reality is to make up lies, as he and his press secretary did in claiming that his inaugural crowd was the largest ever. The new Republican Congress is dangerous in its clearly announced plans to let big business do whatever it wants, to funnel even more money to rich people, and to give away control over public resources to private corporations.
Marching is good, but not enough. Public displays of political passion certainly influence elected officials. The Republican majority in Congress can be moved by protest. That was obvious on the first day of the new Congress, when conservative Republicans tried to do away with the House Ethics Office. Protests by constituents quickly changed their minds, and they began their one-party government by repudiating themselves.
But the high emotions of the inaugural moment will fade, as we all get used to a new normal: Trump in the White House and Republicans running Congress. Pure opposition can only go so far.
Marches alone won’t stop them. Real political influence requires continued and widespread popular pressure in favor of positive action. Spreading truth and calling out lies, being vocal about protecting human rights, showing clearly how their policies will affect the least powerful among us, and promoting the idea that politics should support the many, not the few – that’s always been the job anyway.
If the incredible women’s marches are the opening of a historic movement, Trump will have a hard time maintaining his fantasies about his own greatness.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 24, 2017