In January 2017, my family—consisting of myself, my wife, my 18 year-old son, and my 14 year-old daughter—drove from Indiana to Washington, D.C. and joined a half million people for the Women’s March. An estimated 3 million people participated in 500 sister marches around the world. L.A. and New York had about a half million marchers each. Chicago had a quarter million. The turnout was historic and unexpected. All in all, one in every 100 Americans participated! That’s amazing!
During the rally, I was interviewed by an Associated Press reporter who asked me why I was there. I told her I was there first and foremost for my daughter. I wanted her to see the power that women can manifest. And I wanted her to see men supporting women who were manifesting that power. I wanted her to feel powerful, rather than fearful. I wanted her to see what democracy looks like—and what better place than in Washington D.C.!
So what did all of that accomplish? That’s what reporters want to know when they cover marches like the Women’s March. That’s the question conservative critics, apathetic moderates, and cynical liberals ask rhetorically. Here’s 10 things that marches and protests accomplish:
1. Marching raises the energy of those who participate in the march.
Raising energy means creating the emotional and psychological potential for action. That’s one thing rallies and protests and marches do: They rouse us, they move us to action, literally. We physically move. There is something powerful, even magical, about, in Gloria Steinam’s words, “putting our bodies where our beliefs are.” Marching is empowering—especially when wearing a pink “pussy hat”!
2. Marching focuses our energy.
If the organizers of a march have done their job, they will direct the energy they raise. The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, for example, planned 10 actions over the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. The first action was sending a post card to our Senators. They’ve even provided pre-printed postcards and a tool for identifying your Senator. This is just one way people are transforming the energy raised at the Women’s March into action.
Documentary maker, Michael Moore, gave perhaps the most practical speech of the day, urging people to call Congress every day, to make it a part of our routine. He even gave a phone number:
“The phone number is (202) 225-3121. You call that number any time of the day or night, a human being answers it. There’s an actual 24/7 switchboard. Call that number. If you don’t know who your congressperson is, that’s OK. Just give them your ZIP code. … Each of you have one representative and two senators. They only work three days out of the week, Tuesday to Thursday. If you can’t do it all five days, on those three days, call your rep one day, call your senator the next day, and call your other senator the next day.”
3. Marching fosters solidarity.
The Women’s March brought together those who cared about a wide spectrum of causes: ending violence, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, worker’s rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, and environmental justice. All of these causes are interrelated, just as patriarchy, misogyny, white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, capitalism, imperialism, and desecration of the earth are interrelated. So it makes sense to stand together. As America Ferrera said at the rally:
“If we do not stand together, march together, for the next four years, then we will lose together. If we, the millions of Americans who believe in decency, in the greater good, that justice is for all, if we fall into the trap of the separating ourselves by our causes and labels it will weaken our fight and we will lose. But, if we commit to what aligns us, if we stand together, we stand the chance of saving the soul of our country.
4. Marching sends a message to those in power.
It is a way of speaking truth to power. When a reporter asked Michael Moore what he hoped the Women’s March would accomplish, he responded. “If you just look that way [pointing out to the crowd], we’ve already accomplished it. … The majority of Americans did not want Donald J. Trump in the White House, and we are here today as their representatives.” The Women’s March was a vote of no confidence for the President and his administration.
America Ferrera, herself a first generation child of immigrants, opened the rally with a powerful declaration:
“We are gathered here and across the country and around the world today to say, Mr. Trump, we refuse! We reject the demonization of our Muslim brothers and sisters! We condemn the systemic murder and incarceration of our Black brothers and sisters! We will not ask our LGBT families to go backwards! We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance! We won’t build walls and we won’t see the worst in each other.”
5. Marching sends a message to the people at home.
Marching also sends a message to the people who don’t attend the march. Although this requires media coverage or use of social media to reach those who did not attend. The Women’s March certainly accomplished that!
6. Marching provides a container for direct action.
In May 2016, I participated in a rally and march which culminated in a direct action. Forty-one people, including myself, blocked the entrance to the BP Whiting refinery in Whiting, Indiana, the largest tar sands refinery in the country, and were arrested. As we approached the entrance to BP, crossed the property line, were ordered to leave, and waited to be arrested. Having a thousand people at our back singing and chanting made all the difference. There were no arrests at the Women’s March, but there was some direct action. My daughter joined many of the marchers in her first act of civil disobedience, when she tossed our protest sign over the fence erected in front of the White House.
7. Marching heightens the tension in order to foster change.
Some people see marching as a catharsis, a way of blowing off steam. But marching is about raising energy, increasing tension. As Martin Luther King, Jr. explained in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
“‘Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? … Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
8. Marching changes the narrative.
Many people criticize the Occupy Movement for not accomplishing anything. Any yet, you will hear those some people referring to “the 99%” and “the 1%”. The Occupy Movement generated a national conversation about income inequality, which has now been taken up by people on both sides of the political spectrum.
9. Marching is an exercise of our rights to assembly and free speech.
This is why we chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” If nothing else, marching is an exercise. Sometimes our rights need to be exercised for the sake of exercising them, so that we don’t forget that we have them and so that those in power don’t forget who is really in charge.
10. Marching is a challenge to people who are doing nothing.
Marches piss people off, especially those sitting at home. Progressive marches piss off conservatives, obviously, but they also pisses off apathetic moderates and cynical liberals. Why? Because it hits them where they live—literally. Marching stands as a critique of their inaction.