A March About Everything and Nothing
Writing for Vice, Jay Kaspian Kin mentions a friend that called Saturday’s Women’s March, “…the world’s first whatever you want it to be march.” Truth be told, this seems to have been the goal of the organizers, who published a statement of ‘unifying principles’ in the days before the event. It lists:
- Ending violence
- Reproductive rights
- LGBTQIA rights
- Worker’s rights
- Civil rights
- Disability rights
- Immigrant rights
- Environmental justice
While care was taken to represent seemingly every pole in the Big Tent of liberalism, the effort to be inclusive may have exposed some cracks in the broad coalition of the American Left. Specifically, there has been a hostile response from many writers and activists of color towards what they perceive as an exercise in White catharsis. Writing for ColorLines, Jamilah Lemieux said:
Of course, much of the post-election news cycle was dominated by White folks wringing their hands: How could this happen? Why did it happen? There was lots of weeping and wailing from women who could get the answers to those questions by simply asking their relatives, friends and partners who put Trump in power. As fearful as I am for the lives that are most vulnerable in the wake of a Trump presidency (including immigrants of color, Muslims, LGBT people and, of course, Black folks), there was a tiny, tiny part of me that felt a tiny, tiny bit of satisfaction at seeing how sad many White women were. Finally, they got to know some semblance of the pain and anguish that accompanies our lives in this country.
Aurielle Marie, writing for Essence, didn’t pull any punches in her critique:
I want to focus on the former, here. Black bodies, choking on teargas in the dark, running from bullets in between streetlights. Black bodies, pouring milk into their eyes, while laughing at the ancestors that held them up. Black women, singing as our feet bled in Ferguson. Black women, feeding the multitudes with fried fish and warm bread in Selma. Us.
And yet, it is white women who are allowed the audacity of resistance.
It is white women who are not questioned when they take to the streets in cities all over the country, by the hundreds of thousands. It is white women who can scream, “Fuck Trump” and “it is our duty to FIGHT” while police officers look on in mild amusement.
On Facebook, writer and activist Ijeoma Oluo said,
“I cannot put into words how heartbreaking it is to see grown adults that I know and love decide only now to take to the streets. I’m glad you’re doing something. But…weren’t we worth it before? Why weren’t we reason enough? Where have you been? And where will you be once this doesn’t impact you directly anymore?”
The complaint has been leveled that white women elected Trump, giving him 53% of their vote. The numbers are more complicated though. Trump’s share of the both the white vote (58%) and the black vote (8%) was almost identical to Mitt Romney in 2012. Clinton had about the same share of the white vote as Obama in 2012. The only thing that really changed in 2016 was that Clinton lost some of the black vote previously enjoyed by President Obama (93% for Obama in 2012 vs. 88% for Clinton in 2016). Even with the 5% erosion of black votes from the last election, 88% still represents the single most homogeneous voting block among the electorate. So in that sense, yes, blacks still did their part for Hillary. The problem may be that less blacks voted overall due to restrictive new voting laws and more whites may have voted than in previous years in what some have called the last gasp of a fading majority.
So the question to ask seems to be, is this a fair critique? White women have certainly not been lining up to march with minority groups for their causes, and white celebrities haven’t made too many appearances on the front lines in Ferguson or Baltimore (some did take the opportunity to show up in South Dakota – kudos). But on the other side of the argument, are blacks marching for immigrant rights? Are Muslims marching for the rights of the LBGT community? Are gays protesting for American Indian rights? Are Latinos taking to the street in support of Black Lives Matter? Largely the answer is no. Writing for Vice, Jay Kaspian Kin said, “Outrage is almost always personal, and huge turnouts only really happen when the majority…can identify with what they feel is a virtuous, specific cause.”
All of this points to a liberal establishment that, in its effort to be inclusive, has so many competing self-interests that people simply don’t have the bandwidth to support each other. Or a more nefarious read is that it feels a bit too dangerous to join certain protests. Or, quite simply, humans are selfish. Still, there was so much attention on this march that not attending was seen by some as an affront. Fans are mad that Taylor Swift didn’t attend when so many other celebrities braved the cold in trendy jackets and pink beanies. Marching took courage! we were told on social media last Saturday. Meanwhile the police in Washington DC and elsewhere posed for pictures with marchers and seemed generally bemused by the events. A big contrast from the attitudes of both protesters and the police in other cities over the summer, when the stakes were radically different.
So what’s next?
While the conservative in me found my eyes rolling for much of the weekend, I do have a soft spot for anything that motivates people in a positive way. I would like to see the vague themes of this march begin to coalesce around a more specific agenda. It’s not enough just to oppose President Trump because I think the next four years are actually going to filled with a lot of highs and lows. He’s going to do some things make many of us want to swim to France and he’s also going to do things that make us begrudgingly support him. For example, I heard Michael Moore on NPR tonight say that he agreed with Trump on penalties for outsourcing. In the next sentence he said he hopes he’ll be impeached. Rep. Elijah Cummings said on MSNBC on Wednesday morning that he stands ready to work with the president on several issues where they have common ground.
During the Bush years it’s fair to say that the country was divided neatly along party lines. You could predict very easily what position a Republican or Democrat would take on any given issue. President Trump may actually accomplish something amazing by blowing up the idea of partisanship. We may see 4 years of him working with whomever he needs to in order to accomplish his agenda and the kind of coalition-building that usually only happens in parliamentary systems. All we can safely say is that it’s going to be an unpredictable journey.
To close, all I can really say about the Women’s March is that something happened. What it means? That’s something we’ll have to figure out in the next 100 days.