Yesterday’s women’s march was impressive in every way – the turnout was beyond massive, and according to the DC Police Department, there were zero arrests for misconduct. In Atlanta, you can see marchers hugging and high-fiving the cops assigned to provide security. It was a beautiful, powerful message: showing up in huge numbers and remaining peaceful at the same time.
So the question now is, where to we go? Big movements like this can fizzle out very quickly if they aren’t accompanied by real action later on (think Occupy Wall Street, which catalyzed a lot of opinions but had a far smaller impact than it should have considering how big and sustained it was).
I would humbly suggest three areas to focus on.
####Oppose the Ministry of Truth.#### Both President Trump and his spokesman, Sean Spicer, spent the first full day of their administration whining about coverage of the crowds at the inauguration. President Trump did so at a speech intended to mend his relationship with the CIA, in front of a memorial. It went over like a lead balloon. Later, Spicer held a “press conference” that consisted of his lying repeatedly about the crowd, then accusing the media of lying for publishing photos of the crowd, then stormed off the stage.
I’ve written before about “red alert” moments, and here is probably our final one. Put simply, a democratic government does not behave this way – an authoritarian one does. Spicer’s and President Trump’s behavior is right out of authoritarianism 101 – from Cambodia to Kazakhstan, the pattern repeats itself: accuse the media of lying when it reports the truth, and eventually move to shut down independent outlets. Just like in other authoritarian countries, in America we also have compliant and sycophantic outlets that will help.
Too many people have hoped Donald Trump the candidate would become Donald Trump the President when he assumed office, and he has shown that he simply will not be. Donald Trump the candidate advocated violence against protesters, bullied the disabled, and engaged in horrifying racism while demanding his political opponents be imprisoned. Having a man like that with his sycophants in the White House is terrifying, and there is a real possibility that space for free speech in America will close off over the next few years.
It is heartening to see the majority of national news outlets point out that President Trump’s behavior at the CIA was inappropriate and Spicer’s commentary was full of inaccuracies. That needs to continue – the only way any semblance of reality will survive in this country is if the press keep their backbone. So keep calling them out for their untruths. Our very survival depends on it.
####Be Prepared for the Next March.#### This march was a wonderful, empowering thing but it won’t be next time. In the Middle East, regimes responded to the Arab Spring protests by denying access to public space (i.e. denying a protest permit), dehumanizing the protesters (i.e. antisemitic dogwhistles about organizers), and appeals to xenophobia. This approach was consistent across regimesbecause it was very effective at blunting the popular movements in question, along with some horrific acts of violence.
This last bit concerns me. I worry the police next time won’t be so laid back. During the inauguration, a couple of groups of anarchists burned a limousine and smashed a few storefronts. It was a tiny number of people in an area of the city isolated from the actual ceremony and protests, yet many conservative writers treated it like it was the Syrian civil war and an attack on democracy itself.
In other words, violence against the next protest march will be planned for, and a lot of people with large audiences will cheer it on. I was relieved to hear no one was hurt, and that at the women’s march no one was even arrested. That is a wonderful thing! But the Trump White House will be ready next time, they will respond with force, and they will have their lies about it amplified in the conservative press because that is what authoritarians do.
####Focus on the States.#### In 2016, the Republican Party won big: new governorships, a bigger majority in the House, a new majority in the Senate. But they also won big on another front: they are one state legislature away from being able to convene a constitutional convention. There are a lot of reasons for this – gerrymandering as part of a decade-long Republican effort to manipulate our electoral system to cement election-proof minority rule, a collapsed Democratic Party that proved unable to support local election efforts, an insurgent movement from the left that peeled away support for even downticket Democrats in 2016, and so on.
The point is, it is a complication process that began at the local level. Democrats are, by and large, way too focused on national politics and tend to fall apart at the local level. This local level, however, is where real movements take power. It is where the Tea Party got control of the GOP – by crashing local elections, primarying old guard Republicans who weren’t extreme enough, and stacking local boards and governing bodies with allies.
Right now, Republicans get fewer votes than Democrats but control far more legislative bodies. That is a quirk of our system that no one can change, but we can work inside of it by going local. The Democratic party is, once again, focused on big donors for a national effort – this is maybe fine for stuff like Congressional races (see here), but not enough. A bunch of state legislatures are up for voting in 2017 – that is where the first step of this movement begins. Start supporting candidates who support civil rights, LGBT equality, and the environment now, when it will make a difference, and not only in the final days of the campaign when it will be too late to move the needle very much.
The women’s march was a momentous occasion – certainly the biggest protest of an inauguration within recent memory. But without building it into a sustainable movement, it will only be a happy memory for the marchers. One of the ways we can defend the vulnerable and protect our communities over the next four years, as the GOP shuts down government protection of civil rights, the environment, and the vulnerable, is by building up our own communities and organizing locally to help each other. It is that local effort – attend council and supervisory board meetings! – that will create the long term change.
So build on this. Don’t wait until the 2018 election cycle to wake up again. By then, it will have been far too late.
One last note: protect yourself. I would suggest disabling the fingerprint ID feature on your smart phone and relying on a passcode. The police can compel you to provide your fingerprint, but they cannot compel you to provide your passcode. Be careful of who you interact with online, and be wary of accepting social media friend requests from strangers you’ve never met in person or don’t know well. So take care of yourselves, and be kind to each other.