Protest matters, but not by itself, and usually not quickly. The massive Women’s March and the miraculous airport protests haven’t yet triumphed: the president remains committed to restricting Muslim access to the United States and rolling back reproductive rights…among other provocations.
Protest campaigns, when they work, stiffen the spines of would-be allies and weaken the resolve of their opponents. There’s pretty good evidence that this is already happening. Democratic senators are working hard to stall many of the Trump nominees they find problematic, and are strategizing to make hearings on the Supreme Court vacancy as difficult and educative as possible. Leaders like Dianne Feinstein (California) and Chuck Schumer (New York) were never before in the fiery liberal faction of the party, but they’ve been provoked, pushed, and propelled into more aggressive action. The demonstrations and phone calls help.
And Republicans wary about being taken down by Trump are calculating their own positions strategically. As example: in Orange County, California, where I live, the mostly Republican Congressional delegates are trying to negotiate their alliances with Trump’s positions, mindful that the County voted against Donald Trump, the first time the OC has gone Democratic since the Pleistocene era.
In December of 2015, all four Republican representatives opposed candidate Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, for a variety of sensible and patriotic reasons. Trump’s election changed that, but….
Now, Dana Rohrabacher, once concerned about alienating potential Muslim allies, supports Trump’s travel ban, but wants more protections for Christians. Ed Royce and Darrell Issa express sympathy for protecting the nation, but question the roll-out and implementation of the policy, trying to cultivate a little space between themselves and their president. Mimi Walters, my representative, has ducked all the questions; no one was answering the phone at her office this morning, and her Twitter account celebrates the lunar new year. But people keep asking. The protests mean they’ll keep asking. Waiting unsuccessfully for community meetings, activists have scheduled regular protests in her office.
Orange County contains beautiful beaches and shopping malls, and an increasingly diverse population including immigrants from around the world. From my office at the University of California, Irvine, you don’t have to be particularly fit to bicycle easily to a church, a Mormon or Buddhist temple, a synagogue, or a mosque. Over the weekend, religious leaders scheduled a news conference in Anaheim to denounce the travel ban, stand up for diversity, and demand support from their elected officials.
Democrats have targeted all four Republican Orange County districts, carried by Hillary Clinton in November, for campaigns in 2018. I’m sure all four representatives are paying attention to the demonstrations, the phone calls, and maybe even the tweets.
Activists didn’t show up at the airports to get Chuck Schumer to skip a hearing or delay a vote, nor to get Republican members of Congress to become more elusive, but this is how protest sometimes works.