It seems that the two great events of this weekend, the presidential inauguration and the subsequent women’s march, have taken up all the characteristics of the controversy surrounding the new presidency. This should surprise no one, except perhaps with regard to the extent of the turnout and the wave of public response to it. What should also be expected is the foremost criticism surrounding the protests: that they are too vague, shallow and passive to effect tangible change.
I didn’t go to any women’s marches, but I think any of us who has checked social media or a news source understands the general idea. Pink hats, colorful signs and plentiful references to President Donald Trump’s infamous comment regarding groping women’s genitals are parading across the world and nation. As the largest recorded protest event in the U.S., the turnout has been compared to that of the relatively unpopular inauguration to which it responded.
Naturally, there has been controversy. After a slew of “not my president” posts and responses and the more directly anti-Trump demonstrations surrounding the inauguration ceremony itself, even the most nonpartisan citizens have chosen an opinion, even if that opinion be as simple as the idea that people should just shut up already. When the demonstration in question seems particularly vague and superficial, these opinions are bound to become even stronger and louder.
The women’s march has not made any specific demands. Even in light of the president’s signing of the “Mexico City Policy” against U.S. funding of international abortions, the most specific complaint among the protesters was the leaked audio of the president’s self-identified “locker room banter,” and even this did not propose a specific solution to the issue at hand.
It seems like common sense that any protest worth the time and energy should seek to solve a particular issue. The most successful recent protest, against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), probably succeeded in part due to its clear-cut goals and unified base. After all, how can any changes be expected to be made if they are not first demanded?
Even the nature of the demonstrated discontent seemed much broader than that of the environmentalists and Native American rights activists unified against the pipeline. Ethnic and racial minorities, gay and transgender people, people with disabilities, and other groups made their voices heard in the midst of the more general feminism. While intersectionality and cooperation are to be applauded, this may have come at the risk of making the march seem, to those who opposed it, more like general whining than a concentrated drive for positive change.
In a way, the lack of divisive demands or a singular platform strengthens the march’s potential.
Were the goal to demand and receive a particular governmental promise, whether that surround Planned Parenthood funding or a more formal apology from the president regarding the groping comments which were so heavily focused upon, the march would have failed.
But as a starting point for a potentially more cohesive movement which will have to survive over at least four years, immediate change is much less important than building a popular ideological foundation which can sponsor more specific activism. It is much more powerful in its potentiality than any actuality could be at this point.
Demonstrating does not have to be immediately effective in order to be useful, just as voting is important even if the chosen candidate seems to have little chance of winning. Many have criticized the marches as a useless response to a fair election, but to my knowledge nobody has been demanding that the president step down. Rather, the protests can be seen as a part of the civic duty we fulfill by voting: to make our voices heard, and work to make possible the things in which we believe. Maybe a handwritten sign or chant won’t change who’s in office or what those political figures do, but they can certainly lay the groundwork for more concrete reform in years to come.