January 21, 2017. Was this the beginning of the American spring? Was it a resurgence of democracy in which American people from across the country insisted that they will not allow Donald Trump to take away their rights, and set the country’s progress back a generation? Was it the beginning of a left-leaning tea party?
Whether it was the beginning of an American awakening, or not, the numbers are astounding. While it is impossible to get an exact count, there are good estimates that between 3.5 and 4.3 million people marched world-wide. Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago alone accounted for close to 2 million people. There were 600 marches across the country, and across the world, with large crowds in places like London and Paris. The Women’s March was about more than women’s rights though, and there were plenty of men who turned out. The march was not only a protest against Trump’s election, it was a call to arms. The march sent a powerful political message to make it crystal clear that people were not going to allow Trump to trample over their rights. It also reinforced the fact that while Trump narrowly won the electoral college, he lost the popular election by almost 3 million votes.
The march was all the more meaningful given the nationalistic, isolationist, jingoist “America first” inauguration address and all its “carnage” from the day before. Trump claims to speak for the people. He argues that his election returns power to the people. The Women’s March – and the millions of people who turned out, make it clear that NOT all the people are happy with the direction he proposes taking.
But a march is a one-day event. The real work lies ahead, and the question is will this mark the beginning of a movement? Will the energy and power of the day of protest be transformed into a political movement, into a political party? Will the Women’s March on Washington transform into a progressive tea party? If it is the beginning of a new movement, will that movement learn from the lessons of this election? Will the left remain in its identity politics bubble in which there is a one-size-fits-all progressivism, that sets to the side any alternative viewpoints? Will progressives be so fixated that they remain indifferent to conditions outside their self-defined group? Will the working class be left-behind? Will all individuals who share different views be shunned and made-fun of? If nothing is learned from November 8th, then it will be for naught.
There is much talk about whether the march will spark a new tea party or will it be like Occupy Wall Street, stridently against something, but never clear exactly what it was for. I think there is certainly a lot of energy that can come from resisting Trump’s agenda; resisting his embracing of “alternative facts” (lies) and the populist alt-right (a.k.a. white supremacists), but the movement has to be be about more than stopping Trump. Oh, it is ok, and it is essential to stop him. His authoritarian tendencies, and efforts to delegitimize the media, and to treat facts as fungible represent a fundamental threat to our democratic tradition. His lack of a popular mandate, losing the nation-wide vote by a margin of almost three million, and the evidence of foreign interference in the election, make the claims of his illegitimacy all the more stronger. Indeed, reform of the electoral college can and should be a core issue of any new political movement.
But if there will be a successful progressive movement, it has to go beyond just Trump. I am uncertain whether this weekend will mark the beginning of an American spring. I’m hesitant to even use the words American spring, given that the Arab spring, the awakening in the Arab world, has not had a lot of positive results. An American spring, and a progressive political movement must be able to be more than what has defined progressive politics in the past decade. Diversity and women’s rights are very important, but a progressive coalition must be exactly that, a coalition of multiple-viewpoints. Will the left be able to see beyond it’s identify politics fixation? Will the focus on women’s rights and diversity also encompass the concerns of the working class? It is possible that Trump’s antics, extremism, and efforts to delegitimize the press will be enough to propel a movement, but if it ends up being a bunch of aging hippies and millennials setting up tents on city streets or on campuses, protesting the machine, it won’t end well.
I’m hopeful that leadership will emerge, and from that a true broad-based democratic movement.