What Was Missing at the Women’s March
I marched on Saturday in Chicago.
I marched, along with millions of citizens and allies on seven continents, united by the conviction that a country led by Trump endangers our freedom.
The march was my first political action since mid-November, when I finished throwing leftover “Love Trumps Hate” placards into the recycling bin and drove from the Athens, Ohio campaign office back to my parents’ home in Chicago.
It was hard to want to march.
It was hard to prevent myself from calculating the number of doors the expected crowd could have knocked in Wisconsin the weekend before the election (maybe a million, at least, in a state we lost by 22,748). It was hard not to wonder if all of those knitting hats had even registered to vote. Danielle Templeton, a coworker in Ohio, captures this bitterness in a piece that hit home with organizers everywhere:
I will remember pleading with you, begging you, imploring you to march with me because our outcome was not certain…
I will remember asking you to march.
I will remember you did not.
I have never felt as much anger at the left than during the protests immediately after the election. (Why did you not take to the streets on November 7? Where where you when we needed you?) Coming from fifteen months of nonstop effort, my despair was paralyzing. But nothing has been more encouraging post-election than the number of people who have been galvanized into greater public participation. People who have never stepped up before have been figuring out who represents them in Washington, how to put pressure on those politicians, and how to go about replacing those who don’t respond.
There is a movement building. It is poorly-defined and confusing (as the controversy around the Women’s March indicates), but its lack of restrictive dogma, its dedication to intersectionality, and its emphasis on localization bear promise. Some claim this election as the necessary wake-up call for a polarized nation unaware of its own divisions. They claim it will incite progress and strengthen the process around which we achieve it, that this is all a good thing in the end.
This movement is energizing, forward-looking, and unifying. It is important enough to set aside bitterness.
So I marched, excited to join thousands seeking to channel their anger and fear into productive action. It was perhaps the biggest protest in US history. We made a significant statement.
But there was no channeling.
No one asked me if I was registered to vote. No one asked me to sign up for a mailing list. No one asked me to donate. I didn’t see a single clipboard.
As an organizer, I admit that I can’t see a large group of people without thinking of ways to utilize the opportunity (we registered close to 200,000 voters in Ohio alone through sheer persistence — and the help of Pokemon Go). So in the six hours I spent alongside pink-hatted masses, I expected to be approached by someone. Planned Parenthood. NARAL Pro-Choice America. ACLU. NOW. Anyone. There were signs for those organizations. Maybe I was too far from a centralized stage, maybe I just missed them. But I wasn’t alone. The thousands of people around me who danced, cheered, and chanted along Grant Park, under the “L” tracks on Wabash, across the river from the impervious Trump Tower, represented thousands of potential activists, volunteers, or donors waiting for that next step. Potential energy without activation will not become kinetic.
Here’s the thing: building a movement is hard. Sustaining one is even harder. Initial energy expended must be channeled into further action. That is why organizers exist. Activism is not particularly fun or easy: people hate making phone calls, it’s always too hot or too cold to knock doors, logistics and police and permits are frustratingly time-intensive, the people in power are not receptive to critique, and volunteer drop-off is high after the first meet-up. Passion for a cause is what brings someone in the door, but the job of an organizer is to keep them coming back. And no one at the Women’s March showed us how to stick around.
Is it possible that those who attended this march across the world will be more likely to attend future marches and events? Yes, although we need to be able to plan and execute protests quickly, without months of planning, in response to the actions of this administration — which requires vigilant organizers and significant mobilization lists. Was this protest alone an important political action that will make an impact? Yes; protests and marches are at the soul of our most significant progressive legislation (e.g. civil rights). Protests are important — keep protesting. But protests are a tool of activism, not activism itself.
To those of you who are no longer willing to remain silent: thank you for marching. Let those be your first steps and not the last. Know that most steps don’t seem to move you forward, and that many will be hard or unpleasant. Keep on marching.
To those of you who’ve been down this path before — my fellow organizers, activist veterans — remember that you too had a moment that inspired you to take action. Let Saturday’s march be that moment for millions, and use your organizing prowess to encourage and prolong their efforts.
What was missing from the Women’s March were the channelers, the organizers, the clipboards. So here’s an attempt to fill that gap — use this list, add to it, spread it wide. Grab your clipboards.
How to activate that potential energy
Here’s how to get the ball rolling.
Put the numbers of your elected officials into your phone right now. Cool, you did something today.
Stay vigilant. The greatest thing we have to fear in the first 100 days with a united Republican administration is the quiet but efficient dismantling of progressive laws. This will come all at once to divide our attention; it will not be obvious or easy to track. Make a plan to stay on top of the harder-to-find news. Read Track Trump every day.
Find a buddy. Social networks are the backbone of grassroots movements. If you participate with your friends, you’ll be held accountable to people you already care about, not new ones, and you’ll have much more luck recruiting more. Joining an Indivisible group? Bring your best friend along. Did everyone in your book club vote for Hillary? Start your next meeting by calling your representatives in Congress. Make your birthday party into a Stop Freaking Out / Start Doing Something workshop.
Commit to a schedule of activism. Like exercise, it’s not going to happen unless you do it every Thursday at 6:00. Figure out both which group needs your time, and when you’re going to go — weekly. If you don’t have time, set up recurring donations to the organization of your choice. Here’s a great list of pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations (and an awesome way to navigate it) that need time and/or money.
Be intentional with what you read and consume.
- Unsubscribe from all the junk mail in your inbox using unroll.me, and go sign up for the re:act, My Civic Workout, and Project 1461 mailing lists for weekly or daily action items. Look out for the 10 Actions in 100 Days from the Women’s March organizers. (What Do I Do About Trump has more suggestions and a great resource list.)
- Listen to podcasts like Pod Save America.
- Use Tweetdeck to make sense of your Twitter feed — build separate lists for politicians, journalists, activists, and friends.
- Read these right now: Indivisible Guide, Flippable’s philosophy, Do Something, A Path from Protest to Power. Bonus points: Rules for Radicals.
Check your perspective. Remember that those most hurt by the policies of this administration will be immigrants, people of color, LGTBQ, single-parent families, anyone near or below the poverty line, etc. If you don’t belong to some or all of these groups, seek out media and publications that give you those perspectives and listen. Feministing is one example. Your Facebook newsfeed may not be the place to find them.
Join or start a local group. Localization is key to impact. Find groups on the Action Group Network or Indivisible. Locate your closest swing district and organize there. Also explore Join the Movement and Stay Nasty America. These sites seem to be springing up (and dying off) daily — keep your network local, and don’t worry about the national brand.
All of these sound hard, none of these sound fun.
Yep. This isn’t easy. We’re glad you’re here: we need you.
“It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.”
— Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic,” Sister Outsider
Midterms are Tuesday, November 6, 2018. That date should be in all of our calendars. Until then, engage with purpose, organize with heart, and never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.