This weekend is the Women’s March, happening in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the world, a reprise of the 2017 March that took place the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
That demonstration has been cited as the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Nearly a half-million people came to Washington for the march, another five million participated in cities around the country. Hundreds of other demonstrations took place around the world.
It was a big day. Did it accomplish anything? Was it suppose to?
Maybe it’s just too soon to tell.
Marches and protests in the U.S. are largely performative; they are theater. Which is not to say they’re ineffective; like all the arts, theater tells the truth but tells it slant, which can be helpful in a culture that prefers not to look at itself too directly.
But protest marches as theater are not as persuasive as they once may have been, now that a large contingent of policy-makers seems to believe that ignoring the will of the people is an acceptable way to maintain power. And protests that become activated — confrontational, destructive, violent — scare too many of us and lose support.
We do like our marches, though, and so do those in power, at least those who have not travelled too far down the path to fascism. We like them because they make us feel invested, even if it’s only in the right to walk and chant unimpeded down the middle of the street in the company of others who feel as we do. And power likes them because power recognizes the need for a social safety valve.
But power knows, and we should, too, that marches are allowed not because our right to assemble is in the Constitution — it is, but that fact hasn’t stopped lawmakers from curtailing it in the past — but because marches or any performative activism do little to upset the underlying framework of our culture, i.e., the unceasing drive for production, consumption, resource-depletion, exploitation and wealth-hoarding that shapes how we live in the world. It’s not that marches don’t “work.” It’s that the ways in which they work allow the underlying system to carry on as before.
In a recent post, Dave Pollard reflects on the future of activism, the effectiveness of protests vs. direct action, and the likelihood that we’ll soon have more issues than we can handle with regard to our right to redress.
Good luck to any activists who continue direct action under fascism. To discourage followers, they will simply be shot, or worse. Lots of Guantánamos and gulags waiting to be built. Reeducation is a growth industry.Dave Pollard, The Future of Activism
On that happy note, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere the sweet scent of fall is in the air. Do we like it? Yes, we do. Let’s make some spice cake to enjoy as we contemplate TEOTWAWKI.