Women’s March, 2018

The Women’s  Marches missed the top slot in mainstream media this year, crowded out by the Federal government shut down. But the marches may turn out to have longer-lasting effects.

I was glad to attend the Orange County Women’s March in Santa Ana, California,Women’s Marcher’s, including men, women and children, hit the streets of Santa Ana during the second annual event on Saturday, Jan 20, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG) enjoying a marcher’s worm’s eye view of the action: creative signs, chants, fragments of speeches, songs, local political candidates and lots of talk, some of it about politics.

I was surprised that the  turnout was about the same as last year’s march: 20,000 people.

This is not the way big demonstrations usually work. Movement momentum is hard to sustain, people are busy, and the first women’s march had spun activists into all sorts of other campaigns. People are busy! And last year’s march was certainly the largest set of  New York subwaydemonstrations in American history.

I returned home to see my social media feeds filled with pictures of friends at sister marches around the country. The pussy hats–and many of the signs–were the same that I’d seen in Orange County, but most of my distant correspondents were wrapped in winter coats and scarves, sometimes with boots to manage the snow (not a pressing issue in Orange County, California).

Amazingly, the reported turnouts were higher than last year’s in many cities. An estimated 600,000 people showed up in Los Angeles (at left), about 100,000 more than last year. Chicago (left) turned out roughly 50,000 more marchers than last year’s 250,000, and Washington DC (below) turned out hundreds of thousands, even as predictions days earlier were for about 1/10 as many.

I don’t expect the totals to approach last year’s historic numbers, but this showing is exceptional. (For turnouts, watch Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman’s crowd-sourcing project here.)

Image: People gather during the Women's March around Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2018 in Washington.

So, what happened?

And, what happens next?

A few observations:

  1. Unlike his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Donald Trump did not try to reach out and represent the people who didn’t vote for him. (Neither Barrack Obama or George W. Bush were very successful at winning over opponents, but they both showed they were trying.)
  2. The Trump administration has been chaotic, provocative, and not very effective. The government shut-down is only the most recent example–and it hit the same day as the scheduled march.
  3. The Women’s March, and many allies/competitors, took organization seriously, and worked to build infrastructure, and recruit, train, and connect organizers.
  4. #MeToo has put the issues of sexual assault and harassment even higher on the political agenda than Trump’s campaign last year. Lawsuits and tweets and conversations percolating over months spilled into the streets today.
  5. Trump’s transparently racist comments surrounding immigration, in the context of the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), demonstrated the stronger emergence of a white nativist movement–with more than footholds in government.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I’ll be curious about what others might add. The overview, however, is clear: those unhappy about a Trump presidency last year had every reason to stay that way–and Trump helped. And organizers have been working over the past year to build a series of sustainable campaigns.

But a large set of annual demonstrations won’t be enough to make an impact. Organizers know this, and are trying to do more.After WOMEN'S MARCH ANNIVERSARY: POWER TO THE POLLS tickets

Last year’s march was about the disappointment of national elections; this year’s events frame the upcoming elections as an opportunity. Activists carrying an extremely broad range of concerns are focused on changing the government to address those policies. Trump isn’t on the ballot, but activists will work to lash him to every candidate with an R next to his name. Resistance organizers are encouraging supporters not only to vote, but also to run for office, with some visible success. At least a half-dozen of the newly elected Democratic delegates in the lower house of Virginia’s legislature cite the first women’s march as inspiration.

The crowds were out today, but the Resistance has been marching for the past year, with less than 10 months to go.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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