This week I am responding to an article from The Guardian that is itself a response to criticisms of the Women’s March on Washington and related protests and marches across the country (and the world!) that occurred after Trump’s inauguration.
I found this article while scrolling through my Facebook feed after our class a few weeks ago, in which we discussed some classmates’ experiences either participating in the march, as well as simply debating ideas about activism overall. Coming across this article was not only good timing, but I found myself agreeing with it a lot. To paraphrase, the article emphasizes the need for inclusivity and open space for participation within protests and political demonstrations. The political environment is polarized to a point of breaking, which is fracturing American society overall at this point, and in some circles, protests receive large amounts of scrutiny or criticism for who is showing up and who isn’t, who has been there before and who is just joining, who is there for X reason and who is there for Y, and so forth. It can be said that the activist environment is at risk for becoming similarly fractured– something that would counter all of the work activists have already done in Trump’s 3 short weeks so far, and delegitimizing the act of protest to some degree.
Political participation, especially when that participation is protest or counter-activity, is a controversial topic in many respects. However, I feel that in this moment, in which myself and manBecause y others feel that a strange phenomenon is occurring, (Sean King described this as being in “the dip”– a moment in time where one can’t grasp the reality and gravity of a historical moment while living through it in his speaking event at Rackham a few weeks ago) activism becomes more important than ever. However, in the recent weeks I have found myself either involved in or observing conversations or debates about protest involvement. I don’t think the questions we are asking about protests occurring now should be specific inquiries about who is showing up, why they showed up, and whether they’ve showed up before. These questions are valid in an analytic sense, and I think do belong in an environment like our previously mentioned class discussion– but the hinderances that could arise from the scrutiny of these types of questions could affect people’s motivations for joining protests and other activist work at all. In the article, Taylor describes the situation as follows: “It’s also a recipe for how to keep a movement tiny and irrelevant. If you want a movement of the politically pure and already committed, then you and your select friends should go right ahead and be the resistance to Trump.”
Our questions about protest need to go further than pondering about who might show up again– the answer we need is how to make sure that they do– “Simply complaining about it changes nothing”. As Taylor states in her article, movements are created by the dedicated, focused, and continued work of people. The marches on Washington and elsewhere should not be remembered as a one-off; they need to be the start of a movement that we, all who want to and are called upon, are going to have to create. As college students, we have a unique opportunity for participation, and we can’t let our passion for showing up and speaking up be dampened by analysis and critique– those can come after action is taken. Because of so many “uninitiated” people beginning to show an interest and drive to become politically mobilized, the protest space can’t become one that is unapproachable to these (necessary) somewhat willing participants.