How We Turn Those Revolutionary Women’s Marches Into A Political Movement

by Jacy Topps

It was the protest that was heard around the world. The day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President, millions of people marched in protest against his presidency and agenda. The Women’s March rallied more than 2 million in the nation’s capital and cities around the world. The D.C. rally alone attracted over 500,000 people, according to city officials. It was easily one of the biggest demonstrations in the city’s history. Other cities that mounted their own “sister” marches included Austin, San Francisco, NYC, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Lois, Los Angeles, Paris and even Antarctica.

The rejection of Trump as President wasn’t the only reason for the march. The unapologetically progressive Women’s March on Washington official policy platform included reproductive rights, immigration reform, equal pay, paid family leave, and an end to violence against women. Focusing on inclusion, the platform also included LGBTQ rights, accountability for perpetrators of police brutality and racial profiling, demanding the demilitarization of American law enforcement and an end to mass incarceration.

I marched in Atlanta — in John Lewis’ “falling apart, crime-infested district” that Trump falsely asserted after Lewis said he was boycotting the inauguration. Marchers were worried about turnout because it rained heavily all morning. But the rain stopped and over 64,000 people turned out — people of all ages, races, religions and genders. The march felt necessary and powerful. I’ve marched in gay pride parades and the Dyke March, but this felt different.

Screen Shot 2017 01 24 at 1.49.51 PMShepard Fairey’s “We The People” posters

There is power in protest and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” While many condemn protests, claiming they are petty and ineffective, I always redirect them to history. All social movements in this world started with protest. Protest and demonstrations initiated a movement that won women the right to vote, started the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. And it was the strategical and sometimes radical demonstrations, organized nationally by ACT NOW, that gained recognition from the government of the seriousness and legitimacy of the demands and national awareness of the AIDS activist movement.

We marched with the most badass signs any protest has ever seen, we chanted, we sang, and we rallied. Marchers heard speeches from activists, celebrities and politicians. We cried, we hugged one another, and we shared our moments on social media. We came together collectively to reject racism, misogyny, bigotry and sexism. The marches raised awareness and captured the attention of the world, including Trump himself, who early Sunday morning predictably tweeted, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.” With all of the attention we’ve received, the question remains, What next? How do we cultivate these revolutionary marches and turn them into actual policy and social reform?

Screen Shot 2017 01 24 at 2.00.00 PM

More times than not, massive marches and protests fail to create significant changes in politics or public policies. The Occupy Wall Street protests are the first thing that comes to mind. We knew why people were protesting — the egregious fact that global wealth is concentrated in the hands of an elite 1 percent, while the remaining 99 percent seem to be struggling. But what were these protesters doing after the rallies were over to actively impact policy? Social change not only comes through raised public awareness, but education through public discourse and debate, and legislation. Americans seem to have short attention spans and tire quickly of issues that are in the news for prolonged periods of time. So while many Americans still believe in Occupy’s principles, the public discourse has moved on with no policy change.

Moises Naim, attempting to explain why street protests don’t work, says, “Behind massive street demonstrations there is rarely a well-oiled and more permanent organization capable of following up on protesters’ demands and undertaking the complex, face-to-face, and dull political work that produces real change in government.”

But this country has seen change initiated by demonstrations. What were the differences between effective marches and demonstrations and the least effective ones? Sustained action and constant resistance. Activist and author Angela Davis’ speech at the Washington March spoke to this: “Over the next months and years we will be called upon to intensify our demands for social justice to become more militant in our defense of vulnerable populations. Those who still defend the supremacy of white male hetero-patriarchy had better watch out. The next 1,459 days of the Trump administration will be 1,459 days of resistance: Resistance on the ground, resistance in the classrooms, resistance on the job, resistance in our art and in our music.”

But what does resistance look like? When Rosa Parks was jailed after refusing to give up her seat to a white person, the black community boycott of the city’s buses began. That boycott lasted more than a year. Her protest initiated change, but it was the sustained action of the boycott that changed the policy of the transit system.

The Trump administration intends to attack the media as fake news to destroy the media’s ability to hold him accountable. Resistance is the press holding the Trump administration accountable when they blatantly convey falsehoods — what they are now calling “alternative facts.” Our thin-skinned President is driven by his incessant need for validation. Resistance comes in the form of A-lists celebrities and influential people refusal to use their platform to normalize Trump’s rhetoric. Engage your representatives in Congress on legislation and confirmation hearings. Have face-to-face conversations with family and friends, who voted for Trump, about issues that matter to you. Hell, have face-to-face conversations with people who didn’t vote for him about the issues. Boycott businesses and companies who refuse to stand up to bigotry and insist on normalizing his propaganda. Show up. Participate. Continue to call out racism, bigotry and misogyny on your social media. Refusing to exclude people of color, immigrants and other marginalized groups is resistance to the Trump agenda. Donating to progressive organizations like Planned Parenthood and volunteering for nonprofits are acts of resistance. Finally, researching the candidates and showing up to vote in all elections is the most form crucial form of resistance.

I am a gay, black woman, that came from a lower-middle class background. I marched because the freedoms and opportunities that I enjoy now were won because someone marched before me. If these marches intend on becoming a movement — a movement that affects social change and policy — we need to understand that race, gender, class, nationality, immigration status, and sexual orientation are connected, thus all worth being fought for.

Top photo: Angela Davis speaks at a rally in DeFremery Park for George Jackson and the Other Soledad Brothers, Oakland, 1968

This post was published on January 24, 2017

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