The Women’s March: The most conservative protest I’ve been on?
On fighting for the status quo, child in tow.
I took my small child to the London sister march of the Women’s March on Washington, and accidentally taught him to say ‘YUGE’. His sign bore a picture of a yellow comb-overed Yertle the Turtle in a rage atop his turtle stack, and the slogan ‘Bad kings will fall!’ I met three other mummy-friends there. There was a ‘babies against bigots’ sign for the 7-month old, a ‘Wookies against Trump’ sign made by the cool 11-yr old, and one that said ‘I love Hello Kitty’ made by a five-year old girl imbued with a deep and unironic love for Hello Kitty. Our signs were terrific. They were the best signs. Beautiful signs.
We have all been a little caught up by our beautiful signs, and our YUGE numbers, and it's fair enough to ask ‘what next?’ But op-eds in the wake of the march saying ‘so what?’ and ‘marches – pffft’ forget two things:
1. Strategic policy engagement and political organisation are not the only things that are important about political protest (even though there is good nerdy evidence that suggests physical protests are crucibles for sparking exactly this kind of work). Sometimes it is something that people just need to do, in order to rouse themselves from despair and remind themselves (because they are suddenly among them) of the existence of other people – other whole communities even – who share their values and stand with them in solidarity. If the march organisers had not organised the march, it would have happened anyway, for our mental health.
2. The reason this march was so enormous and so international was because it was not in any sense a radical march trying to shift the needle. It was a march for, essentially, liberal democratic values that are on the whole supported by the majority of Americans and the majority of the so-called ‘Free World’ that is meant to be ‘led’ by America. It is a backlash of large proportions against a man who is seen now, and should continue to be seen, as a fascist pariah with a minority mandate who does not fit with this hegemonic self-image of the democratic polity.
Angela Davis (PBUH) ... almost accidentally observed that our first task is to hold the line against the resurrected corpses we thought we already killed and buried.
People wondering if the Women’s March is the Left's moment to establish a ‘Tea Party’ equivalent make little sense, because the march is not a fringe movement. They forget that there already is a decades-old women’s movement that is literally called ‘The Women’s Movement’, and its most unchallenging aspects have been so deeply absorbed into the autobiographical narrative of contemporary liberal democracies that many people sort of forgot about it. It’s even premature to label the march as some kind of rebirth of the women’s movement as an intersectional force; even though it’s a defining moment in this ongoing evolution, particularly (it seems) for activist white women who seem increasingly aware of why race is not just important but central to feminist claims.
But let’s parse this sentence from the Washington speech of Angela Davis (PBUH): “…we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hereto-patriarchy from rising again.” I’m sorry, we are powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent …some kind of change? Her full speech was incendiary and challenging, but here it almost accidentally observed that our first task is to hold the line against the resurrected corpses we thought we already killed and buried.
You could see it in the signs on the marches: things like “This is not normal”, and “WTF”, and “I will not go quietly back to the 1950s” and the now classic meme “I cannot believe I still have to protest this shit”. These are not revolutionary or radical signs; they are expressing shock at a threat to the accepted order.
I got to get out of the house, see friends and feel hopeful, rather than hide in bed clicking ‘sadface-emoji’ on my Facebook newsfeed.
While in recent years, Black Bloc antifas and the intersectional women’s movement have been easy to turn into punchlines, we have become suddenly very relevant to the public consciousness. When a deeply misogynist fascist surprisingly comes to power, for some reason people are more receptive to groups making incredibly obvious statements such as ‘we should be against Nazis and willing to fight them’, or ‘we should support equality’.
So yes, this march may in fact have been the least radical I’ve ever been on, simply because it was reacting against the most conservative political force I have encountered in the West in my adult life. As a cranky contrarian, do I hold that against it? Yeah, nah. They had a children’s route that was like ten minutes long to suit their attention spans, which was perfect for middle-class mummies of colour with radical pretensions to ride along in their Danish cargo bikes. I got to get out of the house, see friends and feel hopeful, rather than hide in bed clicking ‘sadface-emoji’ on my Facebook newsfeed. And because it was the least radical march I’ve ever been on, it was also the largest, which means we might actually have a shot at stomping those zombies back into the ground.
Tze Ming Mok once helped organise a march in Wellington against Nazis punching people that ended up in a Nazi getting punched, but felt bad about it because there were like 30 of them in the whole country and their guy had not just taken over the government.