Friday, Donald J. Trump took the oath of office on the steps of Capitol Hill. One day later, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Washington D.C. In New York, another 400,000; in Seattle, 120,000; and even in Reno, an estimated 10,000 protesters hit the streets, according to officials from each city. By day’s end, millions from across the world had participated in the Women’s March on Washington.
It was one of the largest protests of its kind, and it sent a powerful message. Through sheer numbers, it demonstrated the power of protest in its purest and most peaceful form. It was especially powerful in contrast with the previous day’s inauguration protest, which saw 230 arrested by the end of the day after several spasms of violence.
However, it is a message that is as complex as it is varied, and it can’t stand on the strength of a single day’s protest. While the demonstration focused mainly on women’s rights, there are so many subdivisions within that category that all require their own kind of action. Protection of birth control and access to safe and legal abortions are coming hand in hand with economic concerns like equal pay for equal work. And more than that, it comes bundled in an anti-Trump and anti-Republican sentiment that, while connected, continues to dilute, or at the very least complicate, the message.
All these messages, in their own way, are important. But accomplishing these goals, especially through an institution like Congress, which moves incredibly slow by design, takes an enormous amount of time. Compound this with the fact that a Republican-led Congress is likely to put women’s issues on the backburner simply because of the nature of their platform, and that time grows by years, not months.
What we mean to say is that movements are hard to make stick and require more than a day’s work. Look no further than the Occupy Movement, which flamed out almost as soon as it started.
There seems to be at least some action on the part of the Women’s March organizers to keep the movement going. Their website includes “10 actions for 100 days,” the first being a call to send postcards to senators. This is all well and good, but the senate is famed for its ability to move like a sloth. To expect even a large influx of letters to push hardline senators toward your position is risking a lot — perhaps too much — on hope, especially when many senators aren’t going to be up for re-election anytime soon.
More than that, there seem to be lingering questions over just what the march was for, and who it would include. Writing for CNN, columnist Salena Zito put it succinctly.
“[Protests] need to have a core value, a single focus — not an ‘intersectionality,’” Zito wrote. “To make true change, it cannot be just about ‘pussy’ hats and vagina costumes. Otherwise, you just become a sideshow and side story about people unhappy about [the] election.”
In a lot of ways, Zito is right. The lack of focus makes it easy for critics to target and undercut the movement. Michael Flynn Jr., the controversial son of Trump’s newly minted National Security Advisor, tweeted “… Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis? #WomensMarch.”
That sentiment is not unpopular and remains a driving force behind the Republican attitude toward women more generally. And when people can’t articulate why exactly Flynn is wrong — which happens far more often than anyone on the left would like to think — we’re left with dismissiveness and divisiveness.
Ultimately, there is much more work to be done, and it can’t all be done by marching. This is not to discount the power of protests or marches, but it’s not how lasting change happens. If you want change, there need to be grassroots efforts at the local level. That kind of change will filter up, just see the Tea Party for evidence. But without that kind of commitment, expect a static status quo.