Ivy League Protesting

How Elitism and Infighting Could Kill a Revolution in its Cradle

Everyone has opinions about the Women’s March. The Internet has made that abundantly clear over the past week. I could point out how the fact that everyone feels they have the right, maybe even the duty, to scrutinize the rally demonstrates the epidemics of both mansplaining and female infighting that make such a rally absolutely necessary. Yet, that’s not why I’m here today. Today, I’m here to extend the olive branch in every single direction possible because while the left fights over details and pink hats, Trump and his cronies screw us over more and more every minute. More than ever, we need to set aside our differences to focus on a common purpose: stopping this man from destroying this country.

I’ve been a protestor sporadically over the past 15 years. I was consistently active during college and the Iraq War, I fell off in my 20s, and the Black Lives Matter movement mobilized me again recently. In protesting, I’ve noticed two disturbing trends that were both very apparent this week, and either one, if left unchecked, threatens the impact that the freedom of assembly can have.

The first disease is one of condescension. Many people I know are extremely “woke”. They protest regularly, they mobilize on social media, they volunteer for political campaigns and non profits, they write letters and make phone calls. For years, they’ve been fully aware of the evils of this government and they’ve sacrificed truly impressive amounts of time in the pursuit of justice. Through that experience, they’ve learned the ins and outs of protesting. Through trial and error, they now know pretty damn well what to expect, how to behave, and what the “rules” are.

This is, at its heart, a good thing. Movements need experts. And yet, this week we’ve seen the ugly side of this — it can turn into elitism and judgment very quickly. Most of my more experienced protesting friends have side eyed the women’s march. I’m not unlike them — I refused to wear a pink hat, didn’t make a sign, and eschewed the idea of “enjoying” it. In my experience, you’re not supposed to enjoy it. It’s not a party. And when someone tossed beach balls onto the crowd in DC, I knew I would instantly deflate them if they came my way. I get why the seasoned vets feel apathetic or even salty.

But in the end, where does that get us? Most of the women at the march genuinely want to help. They’re waking up, and what’s our reaction? Well, it certainly shouldn’t be to attack them, to insult them for being middle aged white women, to look down on them because they’re less experienced than we are. Of course they’re less experienced, guys. They’re new. Maybe some of these Ivy League Protestors were born knowing exactly what to do, but I know I wasn’t.

At one of my first protests, I had a sign that read “bongs not bombs” and wore a cardboard sign as a shirt that said “one love”. It was…ridiculous. Looking back, I realize that my anger and passion were very real, but I just had no idea what to do. I was a newbie. Everyone is a newbie once. If we want the newly woke women of last weekend’s march to swell our numbers for various actions going forward, we have to nurture them, not attack them for not being experts at something they’ve never done before. That will only scare them away.

At the same time, those who marched this weekend do need to realize that even though they may be older, they need to listen to younger people who are more expert in the field. If you’re white and looking to join a movement that is predominantly about a different racial group, do not use your voice to speak over or for the minority voices in the movement. While not all protesting needs to involve violence and anger, it isn’t Coachella or the Lilith Fair. No one’s going to ask you to smash store windows, but you should expect that people will be pissed off and hostile — they have good reasons and you should never tell them to calm down.

This weekend was something else — it was a rally, not a protest— and I’m glad it was a good experience for you. It was a good experience for me, too. If you decided you might dig this whole protesting thing, pick a few causes and we’d be happy to have you. Do more listening than talking and you’ll fit right in. We want you with us. We really need you actually and we’ll be patient while you learn so long as you’re willing. Read articles, but mostly watch others and get a feel for where you can fit into the movements. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Seasoned vets, remember what it was like the first time you went to a protest. Think about how unsure you were but also how enthusiastic. That’s where these women are right now. People were kind, and accepting, and loving, and patient with you which is why you’re still involved. Time to pay it forward because, simply put, if we’re divided over the next four years, we don’t stand a chance.