To March or Not to March?

I have been struggling with many questions about marches in general, as well as about the “women’s march” in particular. I’ll have more thoughts in the days ahead. Here’s the latest set.

“I just don’t feel safe,” a friend confided, telling me her top of mind reason for not attending the Jan 21st Women’s March on Washington.

That got me thinking about several threads at once.

Is staying “safe” a good enough reason to stay away? Historically, thousands of protest marchers have risked life and limb to stand up and be seen and heard in opposition to things they think are simply wrong and need to be changed. Maybe part of the point is to set aside personal safety and inconvenience take part despite personal risks of injury, arrest, and uncertain outcomes.

It’s been decades since I took part in any kind of public demonstration, and never in one likely to be as highly-charged as the January 21st one. There are a lot of reasons why I’m not going to this one, and I’m still sorting them out.

I’m working at getting over feeling guilty for not standing physically there in solidarity with longtime friends, and some family members, who signed up weeks ago. I mean, I’m a woman, and, yes, I have, um, concerns. Precisely what basket of concerns do the marchers represent?

“The march has become a catch-all for a host of liberal causes, from immigrant rights to police killings of African Americans. But at its heart is the demand for equal rights for women,” said Post reporters Perry Stein and Sandhya Somashekhar.

If I’m going to march for something, I want to be absolutely clear about what it is, what I want to accomplish, and who’s supposed to be getting what message. As best I’ve been able to tell so far, that’s a long diffuse list of things that marchers might be concerned about. It’s hard to imagine that everybody who’s marching is going to be for or against all the same things.

“Organizers insist the march is not anti-Trump…”

~ Washington Post, 1/3/17

Although the march may be a focal point for people who oppose the agenda of the incoming administration, there’s no political litmus test required from participants. Many people who voted for the President-elect will be marching alongside many more who did not.

I’m also feeling guilty for a far more picayune justification than “safety”: um, convenience.  For over a decade, I’ve left town, or even left the country, for inaugurations in 2001 and 2005. To be fair, I’m an equal opportunity sofa surfer: I watched the 2009 and 2013 ceremonies from the warm comfort of my couch. I don’t get caught up in the excitement of having attended an event in person if “in person” means “part of the throngs a mile back with obstructed view of the JumboTron, oversimplified audio, squeezed into a crowd I can’t get out of, far from restrooms, and facing long delays to get home.”

My contribution to “delivering a message” (exactly what message and to whom, unknown) would be simply as one more dot on the screen, assuming the people I might want to communicate with are watching at all, rather than finding themselves stuck in consequently disrupted traffic. I’m not thinking that whether I march or watch on TV or follow friends live casting will make almost any difference.

Which is to say, there is a lot I don’t know about the mechanics of large public protests.

Someone, educate me. How do leaders somehow channel the energy of participants in some way that reaches and connects with the parties they want to engage? Or is the goal to communicate something that will get picked up by reporters — who will write what they write, not necessarily what the marchers hope.

Calling people a “basket of deplorables” is unlikely to persuade those people to vote for you. Similarly, convening a gathering of a couple hundred thousand people is almost guaranteed not to attract anyone from the incoming Administration to stand up on the big stage and get yelled at. Is it?

Where does dialog and engagement take place?

Emotions will run high, that’s for sure. Which emotions do you think are going to drive the event? Hope, love, and solidarity? Or fear, anger, and outrage? Honestly, there will be plenty of both.

On to practicalities.

Are you going? If this would be your first big protest march, how will you know what to do, what to expect?

A fast search showed no “Guide to Modern Civil Disobedience In America.” This march might be a novel experience for one or even two generations of marchers, but it will not be America’s first rodeo. The last hundred years are filled with lessons of triumph and tragedy. Marches do matter.

Related: One of my family members, who has lived over 80 years as a warrior for justice, shared this link with me:…

I’m always focused on the practical. I wondered what guidance or resources the organizers have suggested, or marchers are finding, to prepare.

What’s different now from the civil rights protests of the sixties, the AIDS protests of the nineties? What are things to know about using social media as a marcher? What are the most important things to bring, and not to bring? What to do in case of conflict? I’ve never been arrested. Is that a good thing? What rights does one have? How does one behave disobediently but civilly?

Here’s one resource from ACT-UP that might offer some food for thought, especially with regard to “legal rights, why get arrested, and what to do next” – all things I had never thought about but clearly thousands before me have. Why not learn from that experience, see what new questions arise, and get answers?

To wrap for tonight, maybe positive outcome of a large protest march might be for Administration and/or Congressional representatives to agree to meet with representatives of the organizers afterward and, well, talk and listen to each other. That would be easier or maybe more likely if there were a focused issue.


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