Wednesday, January 25, 2017


A quick* postscript to the last post, inspired by some reactions I received to it.

I may have come across as more dismissive of the Women's Marches than I am.  To repeat: the global turnout was no mean accomplishment, and such demonstrations give the participants an exhilarating feeling of connection and community.  It's important for people to have that feeling, especially if they don't have everyday access to it, if they don't know many like-minded people where they live.  Despite the popularity of social media, most people know the difference between reading Twitter or Facebook and being with a huge crowd of human bodies that share politics and aims.  Certainly my Facebook feed has been crowded with participants exulting about how good it made them feel.  Which is fine.

My reservations concerned where the participants will go from here; nor was I alone in my concern.  (Gosh, I feel empowered!)   I compared the marches to evangelical revivals, which have the same problem: it's one thing to gather a crowd and get them Full of the Spirit through preaching and singing and dancing in a crowd, and quite another to build organizations that last beyond that initial rush of feeling.  Billy Graham's Crusades, I've read, came under criticism from fellow fundamentalists for just that reason: he would come to town, get people excited, and move on to his next stop without helping build churches, which is a lot less exciting.  Substitute "organizations" for "churches" in that sentence, and you can see what I mean, I hope.  I've written about this before, citing Sarah Sobieraj's book Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism (NYU Press, 2011).  Movement-building for the long haul is a lot less glamorous than organizing even a huge international rally, but the rally is useless if it doesn't foster and support movement-building.

P.S. I see that I must still not have made myself clear, because I received a very civil and helpful e-mail from a reader who informed me that "If a million people can march, then a million letters can certainly arrive at the WH" and supplied me with a list of online ways to "stay involved," so I would know that "people ARE willing to stay active after January 20."  I don't doubt that a million letters can arrive at the White House; my question was whether they would arrive, and my correspondent didn't address that matter.  Nor do I doubt that people are "willing to stay active after January 20"; I was asking whether willingness would translate into action.  That remains to be seen, along with the effectiveness of online activism generally.
People are making much of the huge numbers of people who turned out for the Women's Marches, and to repeat in hopes I'll be clear, they're not wrong to do so: those marches were a considerable achievement.  But what comes next?  The Internet reminded some of us yesterday about huge marches that have been forgotten by the fickle collective memory, such as the Million Women's March of 1997, which drew 750,000 women to Philadelphia -- or maybe not 750,000.  The numbers, like all numbers for such events, are contested.  But there's no doubt that it was big.  Yet it's nearly forgotten now, no doubt because it was a march by women, and by black women at that.

I'm also concerned about what you might call the content of the marches, and I'm not alone in that either.  Yves Smith wrote at Naked Capitalism yesterday:
... the protests against Trump and the Republicans look unlikely to succeed since it’s the same coalition, people from upper middle income groups and/or people living in blue cities, that already managed to lose a winnable election to traditional Republicans and the Trump base. And this loss came despite the presidential campaign sucking resources and dollars out of down-ticket races, with the results that the Democrats continued to bleed losses at all levels of government. 

Worse, much of the messaging is all about stirring up hatred, too often on dubious claims, with Russia scaremongering one of the biggest, while underplaying serious, legitimate causes for concern, like the rise of oligarchy and the threat to gut regulations on a widespread basis.
That many marchers and their supporters may have used the word "love" of their motives and attitudes means nothing; religious bigots of the Right do the same.  As a big hater myself, I think hate is just fine.  What isn't fine is pretending that your hate is love.  Self-deception is not, it seems to me, a good driver for a movement; but what do I know?  Like Freddie DeBoer, I think that what matters is not "hate" or "love," but what you intend to do with your hate and love.

Then, this morning, I saw this fine article by Lizzy O'Shea for Salvage:
As impressive as the protests were, many of the slogans on display were less than promising. Predictably, there was a bulk of #ImWithHer sentiment, referencing Clinton’s victory in the popular vote. It is a fair point, but in the context of a mass mobilisation, it seems rather limited to direct energy towards a woman who was at the inauguration festivities and conspicuously absent from the protests. The limitations of her centrist, establishment politics surely had something to do with bringing us to this threatening nadir. There was a strong current of alt-centre-style hostility to, and scapegoating of, Russia. This trope, offered as a ready-made anti-Trump meme by an increasingly frantic media, has cast a long shadow over our collective capacity to come to terms with Trump’s political appeal.

But the anti-Russian animus also indicated a deeper problem. Shepard Fairey’s majestic portraits of women, commissioned for the march’s placards, notably included a woman in a hijab that was also an American flag. The ACLU’s placards proclaimed ‘Dissent is Patriotic.’ Signs demanded that ‘Make America Smart Again’ or ‘Make America Tolerant Again’ or ‘Make America Kind Again’ – which, like a similar Daily Show skit, begs the question: when exactly was America any of these things?

Liberal patriotism is a bad strategy for building a resistance movement.
You may be #WithHer, but she's not with you: she was with her buddies at the Inauguration.  Though I did rather like this sign, which played on the Clinton slogan in an intelligent way.

I think my reservations are supported by various Democratic Congressional leaders' collaboration with Trump in the past few days.  Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown voted to confirm Ben Carson -- Ben Carson! -- as HUD secretary.  All but four senators voted to confirm Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the UN, and Warren was not among the four who voted against her.  As I've said before, Democrats are the collaboration party, not the opposition party.  As Jake Bacharach said this morning:

*Well, maybe not so quick.