The Women’s March is probably the biggest protest march in as yet recorded history. The low estimate if the total participation in the US is over 3.6 million people and the high estimate being over 4.5 million people, with Washington DC itself estimating an attendance between 500,000 and 1 million marchers (numbers via this source and referenced at the time of the writing of this article). And the target of the march, Donald Trump, noticed and felt the numbers, causing him to react in envy to the size of the crowd by attacking the media with lies so stark that even Fox News felt to call him out on it.
People have been trying to downplay the importance and power of the march, claiming it will ultimately go no where, that it is just a show. This attack on the march was made because its detractors know that it did the one thing they feared the most: it activated bystanders.
The national discourse over how Trump won has consistently been leaving out one frightening fact: voter turnout was at a 20 year low this election. As a result of that overlooked fact, all the discussion has been focused on what can be done to convert the 26% that voted for Trump, and all of it has been ignoring the better strategy: activating the 43% of voters who were too on the fence or felt too uninvolved to vote. Maybe this is accidental, or maybe this is intentional misdirection, but the result has been people banging their heads trying to figure out how to convert the entrenched minority rather than trying to figure out how to activate the much larger group of the unentrenched and undecided. That focus on the former is foolish at best. The real goal for real change needs to be to activate those bystanders.
The Women’s March did that beautifully
But how? But why?
One of the biggest weaknesses of recent organizational efforts is that it relies on attack. Attack the 1%, attack systematic racism, attack misogyny, etc, have been the call on the left for the past 5+ years. These were used because they were the open and honest statements, but the problem is that the language of attack challenges empathy. When attack and empathy collide, only those who can resolve the conflict by attaching their anger to their empathy through protection. This is not easily done naturally and usually involves great tragedy. Organizations of the far right and alt-right know how get around this. They carefully craft a narrative to unite their target audience to their side with an illusion of unity, craft a narrative to create a group of others that are against them, and then rile up their group with a false narrative of attack that need defense. This is why Trump Voters thought he would drain the swamp, because HE is one of THEM. And this is why BLM’s message of “stop killing us” automatically gets linked with an attack on the police to say “if we listen to BLM, then we can’t keep those you love safe.” This is why Trump supporters did not bat an eye when voting for a candidate that ran on hate, because they were made to feel attacked by his targets, and they were told that they were defending their way of life. But this is why the right has been more effective at motivating. The right likes to craft the narrative before telling you what needs to be attacked, and the left likes to be be straight forward and honest. The right likes to activate its followers before sending them off to war, the left likes to be open and make open calls for action.
What the Women’s March did right was that it was both open and activating. The Women’s March cause was straight forward and honest. There was no careful narrative that needed crafting. Reality and Trump’s own words did that for them. The group being spoken for, women, has a natural empathy that needed no cultivating among the majority of Americans, and women’s causes, like the right to make choices about their bodies, is supported by the majority of Americans. The march organizers were also explicit in that they wanted to bring in all allies, they let the out groups choose themselves rather than create one from scratch. They did not need to craft an illusion, their case was the reality the right seeks to fake. And with the inclusion of reality came that larger draw.
So how do we keep this going?
- The next step to fixing the problems caused by the Trump Administration is to keep people activated. We need reasons for more marches. Let’s send Trump a reminder on February 20th, aka, President’s Day. Let’s make National Woman’s Day a reminder of women’s importance. Lets keep giving people reasons to get out.
- After that, lets go to marches with the purpose of meeting people and building bonds. We need to find those former bystanders and link with them to encourage them to stay active.
- Then we need to invite our new friends to organizational and fundraising meetings. Let them have a chance to take meaningful roles in the movement. Give them a chance to raise money for Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women. Encourage them to take a role and then show them all ways they can continue to be active and let them choose. This gives them a stake in continuing in the fight.
- Keep educating them on their rights and the law. Protesting is a learned skill and we need to use skill building to counter worries and fears. The more they learn, the more they know, the more powerful and activated they become.
Do this, and we can render Trump inert. Do this and we can press congress to impeach him over his current and future Constitutional violations. If they don’t impeach or don’t fight his most egregious policy plans, threaten to remove representatives at the next election (imagine the 100,000 who showed to the march in Wisconsin showing up on Paul Ryan’s doorstep demanding impeachment or he loses his seat.) This is how we will fight, and this is how we will win, and The Women’s March is a major force in making this happen.