The Women’s March was, by most reported measures, a success. Though it remains to be seen what the organization’s subsequent “10 Actions/ 100 Days” campaign will yield, it succeeded most at what I’m guessing the vast majority of participants assumed the march was about: making it clear to Donald Trump that he does not have a mandate and his attempt to govern via bigoted, impetuous policies will be met with resistance.
On Saturday I attended the march in Los Angeles and can’t say I began the day with much enthusiasm, especially when compared to the downright giddiness I witnessed from other marchers. It was like watching a foreign film without subtitles—I understood what was happening and why, but I didn’t quite get the tone or the nuance. The times I’ve taken to the streets or raised my voice about an issue have been out of anger or as a response to gross injustice. The joviality of the march, the “warmth and love and care” was unfamiliar.
Throughout the day I found myself irritated but unsure what exactly was bothering me. I was annoyed by the general clusterfuck of the march itself in LA, which could not necessarily be helped as the actual turnout dwarfed estimates, and because the layout of the city doesn’t lend itself easily to large-scale demonstrations. Though it must be said, having thousands of people march in a circle, no matter how you slice it, is stupid.
The day had what my friend dubbed a “woohoo girl” vibe. Pockets of people around me routinely broke into spontaneous cheers. I’d look up expecting to see a drone or a helicopter—some explanation—but saw only clear sky. The urge to woohoo simply overtook them, I suppose.
I was happy to attend the march with a group of mostly people of color. One black friend and I wondered aloud about the motivations of those around us. We side-eyed marchers who donned their best feminist tees and made their cleverest signs and donned their newly knitted pussy hats and smiled for the camera. There was the woman who posed with her butt pointed towards to the camera, showing off her denim jacket with “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS” branded on the back. We rolled our eyes at the group who borrowed other people’s signs to snap a picture or those angling their selfies to include their faces in front the massive crowd.
As we marched very, very slowly, I tried to guess how many of these people had ever shown up to one of the many Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the past few years.
The election of Donald Trump to the most powerful office in the world is a terrible thing—some might even say tragic. But is it more tragic, does it necessitate a larger response, than the murder of a child by state agents? How does, I wondered, one rationalize taking to the streets for this and not that? Not donating a dime or a care to Standing Rock but throwing down a credit card for whatever shows up when you search “feminist” on Etsy. Coming out on this beautiful Saturday morning to demand basic human rights for all, while children in Flint continue to be poisoned by the most basic of resources. How does this compel you to action more than that?
In downtown Los Angeles, the lack of police presence was conspicuous and angered me acutely. As many have noted, the mostly-white Women’s March garnered a completely different response from law enforcement than the more melanin-heavy demonstrations which promote with the exact same peaceful intentions. More frustrating were boasts about the lack of arrests on Saturday from people who somehow still don’t realize the color of your skin is often the primary determinant of how you’ll be treated by police.
Sitting on my couch that evening and trying to decompress from the day, my dissatisfaction nagged at me. I knew and understood the feelings of many women of color who understandably decided to sit out this march, noting it was time for others to participate in the work they’ve been doing for so long.
I am glad, if nothing else, that the marches dwarfed Trump’s inauguration attendance and at the very least caused him a “a sense of injury.” I have an appreciation for any new engagement born from the march and I can’t even fault those who enjoyed the day—after all, there were food trucks. It feels good to feel good, particularly following the dark circumstances of the day before.
Still, what was really bothering me? Where was my sense of awe and hope? The next morning realized: I don’t trust these people.
I don’t trust most of the Women’s March participants to show up again. I don’t trust the resolve of their concern. I don’t trust that all voted for Hillary Clinton or recognized the unprecedented threat of Donald Trump. I don’t trust that they understood this was an election to do everything in our power to keep him out of the White House—too important to throw a vote away on Jill Stein or write in your mother’s name on the ballot.
What I do trust, however, are bigots. I trust bigots to remain bigots. I trust them to continue sending me gloating, racist emails and harass John Legend and shoot black people for as long as they continue to get away with it. I trust them because there’s evidence. History is riddled with proof. Their hatred has always persevered.
As nice as it may have felt at the time, there’s no proof this march this time will spark the resistance we need. The excitement, then, felt somewhat hollow and premature. Writing for The Guardian, Occupy Wall Street co-creator Micah White urged us to consider the Women’s March and its effectiveness in the context of other protests in history. Is this the means to the end we desire?
Sometimes, the people march. Other times we hold general assemblies, tar and feather opponents, occupy pipelines, go on strike, dance in a circle, riot in the streets or pray together. In each case, behind every act of protest is an often unarticulated theory of social change: a story we tell ourselves about why the disobedient behavior we’ve chosen will usher in the change we desire.
More importantly, how seriously was this considered by the organizers and participants? My confidence isn’t high.
It’s difficult to trust the intangible and the continued support of the white majority is exactly that. Will they put their safety on the line and use their privilege to protect other protesters? Will they look beyond Planned Parenthood? How many more posters will they make?
I truly don’t know and my discontent lives in that uncertainty. It’s hard to believe in something you’ve never seen. Before they left the White House, both Barack and Michelle Obama harkened back to the sentiment that got them there and urged us to remain hopeful. So this is me trying to hope. I hope I’m wrong. Prove me wrong.