The Women’s March (WMW) exceeded all expectations, starting in Washington DC, where according to New York Times estimates, the crowds were three times as large as the previous day’s Inaugural crowds. Globally, there were close to 700 separate marches, rallies and gatherings.
Numbers were important in assessing the impact of the March, but not in way that a Trump would think winners and losers by the numbers.
The size of the marches, as a historical event, most of all were an unforgettable visualization and for participants direct experience of what humanity is – the power of fellow feeling and interconnectedness. That message could not have come at a better time, just as Trump demonstrated he disconnects himself from anyone but himself. In an official visit to the CIA the day after the March Trump could not even muster up fellow feeling in those who work to protect America’s security. All he could express was cheap rage at the press for underestimating the size of his inaugural crowds. If anything the media wasn’t factual enough about how much greater the crowds were at the March than at the Inauguration. Trump is powerless to make his crowds bigger and, increasingly, to fool people that the crowds are bigger.
Even the Republican stalwart, the Wall Street Journal, said “such defensiveness about his victory and media coverage make Trump look small and insecure. Americans expect a level of seriousness and decorum consistent with the responsibility of his office.” Americans who voted for Trump because he was “authentic” almost certainly understood that word to mean “strong”. He was a strong man billionaire who would give them the chance to be billionaires and to identify with the “great” America of billionaires and big military muscle. In reality, Trump voters didn’t elect a strong man. At their confirmation hearings his top nominees certainly didn’t sound like they looked to their President as a strong man. They contradicted him on even very recent policy statements and on top priority issues, like support for America’s alliances. His appointees may just forge ahead and support American’s alliances and leave him in a corner beating up puppy dogs who don’t fawn over him.
Some analysts credit the power of the social media in explaining the success of the Women’s March. However, “Occupy Wall Street” or “Black Lives Matter” didn’t tap into anything like the feeling under the WMW. Because it both covered everything as a whole and well as all its parts no one participating needed to have felt they were swept up and identified with one policy position or group.
The March: Agent of change and changed perceptions
1. Women will never be marginalized again. In the nineties, Hillary Clinton launched the idea that “women’s rights are human rights”. The March expressed the idea that women have values and interests in all of the arenas of public policy, institution building and action, at all levels. Climate change, health care, war and peace, crime and violence, economic development, education, healthcare, including health issues specific to women, freedom of religion and freedom of speech are all women’s issues. At the same time, women led and constituted the March so that they did not just disappear inside a broader (and male dominated) agenda. After the March women will never be a footnote or parenthesis again.
2. There was no violence. “Love trumps hate”, as the banner said. With Trump, strength is a fist in the face. He encourages fear and hate. “Lock her up”, our cities are a “carnage”!! Nothing could have eviscerated that message more effectively than the oceans of peace and kindness that came out into the streets the day after an Inaugural address on “American Carnage”. We may possible never be able to use the phrase “go out in the streets” the same way again. It is has meant violence and fear. The March revealed another type of power – the power to make change, including to the direction of history. The grand scale of the event is a piece of reality Trump can’t turn into “alternative news”, as his press spokesman called his lies on crowd size at the Inauguration. People can see for themselves that “American carnage” is false.
3. Moral and ethical values count. Serendipitously, the size and power of the March made the non physical world more real. The march was power, the march was women and the women said Trump was the enemy of what they hold dear. They didn’t even have to be explicit that the Trump attack on the Affordable Care Act or spending public money on good public education made moral and ethical issues more important. In resisting the destruction and danger of Trump “rule” we don’t have to take money away from what makes our society healthy in order give the rich tax breaks under the disproved idea that the money will trickle down to the middle class.
Marchers and their supporters saw that they can do this again, or peel off from the big mass demonstrations and form groups and programs at all levels from the local to the national, building networks and network triggers for action.
Trump voters did not elect a strong man although paradoxically electing a weak man when the people want authoritarianism may be as big a facilitator for authoritarianism as the real thing. The March was one event that resists the fear, sense of powerlessness, and hatred that feeds authoritarianism. Let us continue to resist.
–Elizabeth Spiro Clark