Yesterday, on the 21st of January 2017, a sea of peaceful protesters made history when they descended on streets around the globe to protest the slow eradication of women’s rights under the Trump administration. Millions of people joined in with the fight for gender equality.
In Washington DC, over a million people marched. In Los Angeles, it was 500,000. Chicago? 250,000. New York saw 200,000 protesters turn out. Denver; 100,000. On and on and on the list goes.
The marches continued around the world, with cities across the globe coming out in support of the anti-Trump protests in the US. All in all,there were marches in 30 different countries worldwide. In London, a 100,000 people descended on Grovesnor Square (right outside the US embassy) to march to Trafalgar Square, and I was among them.
It was a good day, and I’m thoroughly glad I went – despite getting chilled to the bone!
However, since then I’ve been seeing a lot of vocal criticisms online around the effectiveness of such civic mobilisation. A whole lot of “Trump’s not going to step down just because people went out and marched“. I even saw one jolly commentator label the marches as “utterly pointless“. It struck me that maybe a lot of people hadn’t thought about why marches occur, and had misjudged the reasons for a good ol’ protest march. With that in mind, I decided to start a list of reasons I think protest marches are a wonderful form of political activism:
- Visibility: Protest marches are a visible, tangiable act of dissent. It’s a raised fist, a message that we will not sit back and do nothing, and that those who disagree should take note.
- Community: It can be quite tiring being an activist. Protest marches build solidarity, renew passion, and forge alliances.
- Cause Recruitment: I saw a number of organisations represented that I hadn’t heard of, but am now interested in getting involved with.
- Media: Protest marches (especially ones as large as the Women’s March) gain coverage from mass media institutions, and so legitimise a cause, as well as encouraging discussion around the issues being protested.
- Mental Health: On a personal level, I find that marches help me to feel reenergised. A lot of campaigning can feel isolating, so to be surrounded by people working on the same issues gives me a mental boost.
- Encouraging Political Participation: Whether or not you attended a march yesterday, it’s difficult to deny that a message rang out loud and clear, and a call to arms was given. Marches can be the nudge that some people need to become more engaged in politics and campaigning.
It’s not all about immediate change (though obviously that would be nice), but is far more complex and nuanced than that. It took me only a few minutes to put this list together, yet I’d guess a lot of these points hadn’t even occurred to those obstinately mocking the march yesterday.
Yes, it was freezing. Yes, it was wonderful. Yes, it was important. As Jack Kerouac once wrote:
“At least I had frost on my nose, boots on my feet, and protest in my mouth.”