Does “Women’s March” Measure Up?

The January 21st, 2017 Women’s March is a lot more complicated, and messy, than the Inaugural Parade.

That’s not surprising.

The January 21st march grew in a matter of hours from one woman’s facebook post overnight to tens of thousands of people crying out to be heard. In days, signups hit a hundred thousand or more. The initiators must have scrambled to absorb an instant  self-study crash-course in public advocacy, coalition-building, public relations, communications, finance and heaven knows what else. My heart goes out to them. They went to sleep cuddling a kitten, and woke up holding onto a tiger by the tail!

By contrast, the inauguration parade team has been working on January 2oth’s event for over six months. They have decades of experience and binders full of briefing books. They will pull off apparently flawlessly-executed events. And they’ll debrief and figure out what they’d have done better, and add another binder to the shelf when they’re done.


Am I unreasonable to think that the precious energy and resources of hundreds of thousands of people is squandered when they gather for a public demonstrations without a clearly-articulated message for a specific audience?

Yes, a mass public gathering has powerful potential for participants to bond with like-minded people, discover new allies and strengthen common cause for the next four years. It’s an opportunity to join hands across the divide and heal with hope for a vision of America we can share.  That’s the positive.

The more focus, the more of all those positive things happen.

This set of rallies doesn’t have any such focus.

I’m concerned that demonstrations next week in one or more cities have the potential to flip in the blink of an eye from freedom of expression to an explosion of rage and fear. If that happens, in even one city, people will be discouraged rather than energized to join forces and voices at a time when unity is vital. That’s the negative.

“Protests are successful and effective when they have a clear message, a clear mission. That’s part of what made the 1913 march by the suffragettes seeking the right to vote so memorable and the 1963 Martin Luther King Jr.-led March on Washington so powerful.

“They are unsuccessful when they are simply a stage for venting.”

The Women’s March Needs Passion and Purpose, Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, 1/13/17

All concerned citizens —of all genders, across the political spectrum and myriad issues —need to get our act together. Mass demonstrations need a well-defined purpose, both to achieve the goal they have, and avoid outcomes they don’t want.



The only thing I know for sure about the rallies is that there will be dozens of lessons learned across the country. There is a new generation of activists being launched right this moment.

That generation desperately needs to know, and fast, how to organize themselves and speak with clarity and purpose. People who want to build a stronger country together have no time to waste. Congress is burning the midnight oil. Apparently everyone’s going to need to do that. More than ever, we need the wise advice of those who have been this road before. We need the lessons of the last 50 or 60 years and more.

It’ll come together. We are going to see people re-learn some lessons in civil activism in their entirety, just as parents cannot protect children from the pain and scrapes that come from growing up and the lessons that come from mistakes We are going to adapt some lessons of the past for this new millennium. And we’re going to learn some new things that we can’t possibly imagine right now.

Yes, amazing things happen because people push through and accept the inevitable messiness of inspiration and accept and grapple with all the gifts of imperfection.

Accept that and embrace it up front. If you’re going to a march (or organizing or supporting one) do you have your debriefing booked?

Am I going? Nope. I’m sitting this one out on the sidelines to see what happens. ‘Cause this is just round one.

The 1/21 marches don’t measure up. But the next ones will. As President Obama said, “If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.” There’s a lot to work on, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on or who you’re standing with. SO let’s come together and get to work.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this isn’t the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Whether you are marching or not, I welcome your thoughts. Thank you for always understanding that my heart is with you and in the right place even if my words don’t catch up.

Michael Eric Bérubé 

I’m not sure how you can make that claim [“The 1/21 marches don’t measure up.”] from a week before they even happen and from being just across the street and still ‘sitting this one out.’ My wife and 19yo daughter are flying down from Maine to take their stand with HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of others. That’s huge if you ask me. What is the ruler that you are using to declare that the efforts ‘don’t measure up?’

Judy BradtJudy Bradt Hi, Michael! And thanks for writing. Your perspective as someone who is planning to march with your family is important to me! I definitely want to support you. For me, the thing that is missing is singularity of focus on an issue. There is a lot to be accomplished, and the March has value as a starting point for a long journey. The organizers are doing an extraordinary thing beyond anything they expected to attempt. My choice is to participate in something when I am satisfied that my own priorities are strongly aligned with the stated intentions of the event organizers. For me, there is not enough clarity to merit going out to march in this particular event.

I applaud those who are willing and eager to step up at this early stage despite all of those unknowns. I’m not ready yet. I will be watching and cheering for a good outcome for everyone and lots of positive developments, both anticipated and surprising
Laurel BowmanLaurel Bowman Oh come on, Judy. You’re right there in Washington. Get out there! I’ll be marching in Victoria. Sure, it doesn’t have a clearly defined focus and message, but the basic message is still clear: “NOT ON OUR WATCH YOU BASTARD.” I think that’s clear enough.

Judy BradtJudy Bradt There is that. Otoh, this may be the first march but it is far from the last.
Laurel BowmanLaurel Bowman Get in on the ground floor! if there is another march you can be in on that one too.

Judy BradtJudy BradtThere are many ways to “show up” and marching is certainly one of them. 

My mother used to tell me, “we read to learn, we write to learn.” Writing this blog, and reading and responding to you, is part of how I am learning something that is new to me: I am discovering exactly how I want to participate in civil activism.

I recognize that I have an emotional response and I want to understand what’s underneath there. If my first response to The idea of taking part in a march is caution, and then I feel ashamed for setting myself apart from others who instantly leave at the chance and buy plane tickets and bus tickets and arrange accommodations, then that tells me I need to stop and sort out what’s happening for me. That is what I have learned.

Until I figure that out, I am not the marcher you want today. But I am the Marcher you absolutely want next time.

Horton heard a who. (Now that I recall, something pink and fluffy was also involved.)

I am struggling with what it means to be one dot on the screen. Maybe that IS the point: to fully absorb that change and progress happen because everybody is willing to be one small dot and understand that change, is because millions are willing to stand together. When I show up in person for something, I want to be all in, aligned in head as well as heart.

Marchers next week will include people who voted for Donald Trump. Sofa-sitters will include people who voted otherwise.

I will not let my inherent perfectionism stand in the way of standing up. There may very well be elements I want to see in place before I show up for certain kinds of public event. There may be things I have simply not researched, like what I might do if I were to get arrested, and what my rights are if that happens. I’m not prepared for that right now.

If I show up for something, whether that is making a presentation or flying an airplane or climbing a wall, I want to be as ready as I can be, not just for my own sake but also to support those people around me. I do adventure some things, but I’m not a risk seeker. That’s me.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has a wonderful book called, “an astronaut’s guide to life on earth.” I found it absolutely fantastic. He also has an important thought for this situation. One of the marvelous tenets is the principle “Be a zero.” By that, he means when you are joining a team, you can end up making a negative contribution by showing up trying to be the winning positive contributor. Understanding the flow of whatever it is that you’re joining, and starting out by working in harmony with what is happening ultimately lets you contribute beyond your wildest dreams and bring everything you have to the combined effort.

If a two-year-old does not know how to read, one does not call her simple. One teaches her to read. Come, teach me.

Natalie CornellNatalie Cornell I’ll be marching on Saturday and here’s why: to say I’m watching you and I will hold you to account; I will not stand by and let you and a Republican Congress roll back 50 years of progress for minorities and women without making a scene and forcing you to explain why it’s OK for the rest of us to live with the tyranny of a culture that overvalues straight white men and undervalues everyone else; and I hope that some percentage of the people marching get inspired to run for office in their school districts, towns cities or states. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t one theme. It matters that he and Congress know we’ll be watching them.
Judy BradtJudy Bradt Yes, Natalie! And hold me accountable, too. The one thing I know for certain is that we will look back and see that this will not have been the biggest rally of the next four years, not by a long shot. 

It takes courage to go out when things are not well defined, when they are messy and in the primordial ooze of the creative process, and to be there when the spark of life ignites into a full flame.

You know me: you know that when I commit to something I am all in. For that to happen, my head and my heart need to be in the same place for me to show up and be in integrity. Nobody needs me to show up mumbling and criticizing. And all of us need to be patient with those whose views are not 100% the same as our own. If I show up, I need to show up whole hearted and able to embrace in my heart as well as in my head an enormous diversity views and be OK with the related inevitable messiness. I need to be unafraid of the idea that someone might make all kinds of unfounded conclusions about me simply because I showed up.

For that matter, people are very likely making their own conclusions about me simply because this time I am choosing not to March. I am not alone. For every Marcher on the mall and in dozens of cities, there are many more who are also watching.
If you have patience with them and me while we sort out our own thinking, we will join you next time. If you decry us with the accusation that “Those who are not with us are against us,” then we lose the opportunity for unity within as well as across what might seem like borders.
There are many WAYS to join forces and succeed together, whether we call Congress,  knit hats, make soup, give rides, pack lunches, or put our boots on the street. I deeply hope that no rolling of bandages will be required.
Oh, and there is NO acceptable explanation for “living with the tyranny of a culture that overvalues straight white men and undervalues everyone else.”
Jennifer CooneyJennifer Cooney Let’s be optimistic and see how it goes. I, for one, already have “outrage fatigue” and cannot sustain this worry about what might happen for the next four years. And face it, a negative headline is going to get a lot more clicks than a positive one.
Patti LatinoPatti Latino “We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined…nonviolent pressure.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.


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