Every day for the last five days, Americans in every major city have organized and sustained protest marches against Donald Trump’s fascism and bigotry. I have spent most of that time trying to muster the courage and energy to join these marches, trying to overcome the gloom and devastation and hopelessness that I felt.
On Friday I started calling my friends across the country to talk about the election results, and it helped. It was good to know that I am not alone in these feelings, to clarify what I feel and why, and to get angry when I hear my friends trying to normalize or diminish what happened.
On Saturday I finally went to march. Shouting and marching in public felt good, felt like the only right thing to do or at least the first step. But the march was so, so small. In a city of 750,000 only 150 people came to protest and almost everyone was under 30. So I texted a bunch of my friends inviting them to join me at the next one. A few are coming, a few said no thanks, and some didn’t answer. And I got one really interesting response:
What exactly are you protesting? Genuinely curious, not being an asshole.
It’s a great question, and I think the answer deserves more length than I was able to give it over text message.
There are two reasons that I think motivated people to show up and protest all week
First, there’s a policy-level protest against essentially DJT’s whole platform. A small sampling from the ACLU’s website, he proposed to:
amass a deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban the entry of Muslims into our country and aggressively surveil them; punish women for accessing abortion; reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture; and change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.
Each of these alone is worth protesting and taken all together they represent a catastrophic direction for our country to take.
Second, this protesting expresses a frustration with the electoral system overall in this country, from the gerrymandering of electoral districts to the systematic stripping away of voting rights from minority groups. Ten percent of Florida’s adults (mostly African American men) can’t vote. This is not an accident, or a tough-but-fair situation. Republican lawmakers across the country have spent decades disenfranchising minorities thereby reshaping our entire political landscape. Now, with the hard-right in control of almost every lever of government, this will only get worse, only make it harder for us to scramble out of this ditch. (Some people today also started chants to remove the electoral college. I don’t agree with that opinion, but movements are broad and you have to accept that you don’t get line-item veto on other people’s chants.)
Even beyond these two, protesting has powerful ramifications.
Protesting normalizes dissent and progressivism. Having an opinion silently is the same as not having it at all. But protesting loudly changes the range of opinions that are visible and seen as popular. Every fight that we will have in this country in the coming years will be easier to win if there is a progressive movement at the forefront of the national consciousness.
This is exactly the mirror image of the vigilante fascism that has sprouted this week. When people see racist bullshit all over their TV, they feel empowered to go yell at a woman in a hijab at Safeway. But when people see your protest (or you tell them about it!), you embolden them, you give them faith that they are not alone, and you inspire them to do their own activism work. This builds on itself, creating networks of activists that sustain and support each other.
After all, this week’s protests would not have been possible without the social movements of the last decade from Occupy to Black Lives Matter. The fight did not begin this week. If you weren’t fighting before — and I was not! — you are joining a fight that has been going on for years. We must learn from our brothers and sisters who have bravely been fighting without us, and build structures and develop tactics for the next people who will join the fight. The coming years will require deep networks and organization, expertise in dissent and the muscle memory to fight back. Let’s build those now before it’s too late.