Well behaved women DO make history. But do they make change?
Taken cumulatively, the women’s marches across the U.S. on January 21st were one of the largest protests in our history, if not the largest. And virtually no one was arrested. According to multiple sources, at the four biggest gatherings, totaling almost two million protesters, not a single arrest was reported by law enforcement. Mass protests and no arrests — it turns out we made history and we were well behaved.
But what does it amount to? Around the corner from the crowded protest sites in D.C., a large sign displayed an oft-quoted rationale for such protests: “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.” As Frederick Douglass knew well, active representative democracy requires that the governed make demands of their government.
And so demands we made.
Yet, despite the march organizers’ well-articulated values and principles, including values around reproductive rights and immigrant’s rights, and despite the more than three million citizens who rallied behind those values, the new administration has been deaf. Within his first week in the office, the president of the United States of America has signed orders or memoranda moving forward with a border wall and threatening funding for international organizations who provide abortions and birth control among their many crucial services. We’re almost certain to see restrictions on immigration from certain areas, including settlement of refugees. Though all of these positions have been rejected by marches, petitioners, and voters, it seems that consent of the governed is no longer a requirement for action by the government.
More than 73 million Americans cast a ballot for a candidate other than Donald Trump. Approximately 90 million voting-aged adults did not vote at all. Of those who voted, Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, the largest electoral loss that nevertheless resulted in victory in our nation’s history. All told, only 27 percent of voting-aged Americans actively chose our current president. And as the new administration took office, approximately 3 million people rose up in mass protests to again assert the demands of the governed. And yet the presidential orders were drafted, the legislation proposed, the memoranda signed. No consent of the governed required.
The lesson here is scalding. If you were one of the 1.6 billion Americans who did not vote for Trump, one of the millions who marched in protest, or one of the millions who have signed petitions, wrote emails and letters, or made phone calls — if you have registered your protest to the current agenda using any of the well-behaved tools afforded you by modern representative democracy, unfortunately, your concerns have been noted, but dismissed. Your right to petition your government has been neutered. You are a victim of taxation without representation. You have helped make history but brought about no change.
It seems a new strategy is in order, one that demands that that folks who now represent us at all levels of government take that job seriously. If you have not already done so, write down the name, address, and phone number of every single elected official who represents you and tell them how you expect them to move forward. If you have already done so, it’s time to double down. We can remain a force of history. Whether we’ll remain well behaved will depend on whether we become well represented.