Dot writes: yesterday I went on the Dublin version of the Women’s March on Washington. Current estimates are that 5000 men, women and children turned out on a very cold day to protest against the newly installed President of the USA and all that he stands for. We were marching in spirit with people in many cities in the US but also around the world -London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Nairobi, Sydney and even Antarctica.
Why protest against a president I wasn’t able to vote for, in a country I don’t live in? Here are some arguments not to:
- I don’t have a personal grievance against Trump and am not going to be directly affected by his policies.
- I’m a comfortably-off straight white woman. What business do I have protesting at all, against anything? Aren’t I just getting an emotional kick out of other people’s troubles and manufacturing a fake sense of grievance?
- I should focus on problems close to home. I have no business going on this march when there are homeless people on the streets of Dublin.
- With respect to the issues central to the Women’s March – equality for women, black people, Muslims, and LGBTQ – this is all just identity politics, and identity politics is tribalism and a scourge.
- Protest marches achieve nothing. However big they are, they are always a minority of the people. Governments routinely ignore them.
- Protest marches might even detract from more effective forms of political action, since they make people feel they’ve made a stand when all they’ve done is vent some spleen. The energy goes into the march, and then we all return to doing nothing.
- The USA captures a disproportionate amount of attention in the world. Participating in events like this reinforces the sense that US politics are central and US problems are the most important, ignoring the billions of people who live in other, often grossly under-reported countries, and may be experiencing far more extreme crises (e.g. Burundi – 327,000 of the population of 11 million have fled the country in the last two years).
I have more time for some of these arguments than for others. The problem of the dominance of the US in our news media is a real one. We need to seek out news from other places and learn to care for other people, including being aware of the power of American cultural products (movies, books, films etc – many of them wonderful, humane and insightful) to set American people and American issues at the heart of the stories we use to interpret our world. We need to make sure that we feed the energy we get from marching into other forms of political action. But here are some rejoinders to the arguments above:
- It is worth being part of international political and social movements. We are all connected, like it or not. If abuse of minorities, narrow nationalism and rejection of science come to power in one country, especially if that country is extremely economically, politically and culturally influential, they are empowered elsewhere. We have to fight back. We have to fight while we can. It’s not true that what Trump does in the US can have no effect on me.
- Those of us who are comfortable, who are in a position of privilege, must use that privilege to speak out for others.
- I love the concept of marching in solidarity. We lend strength to each other. It’s like the Irish practice with funerals – you go to the funeral even if you didn’t know the dead person, because you want to support the family.
- The ‘why are you talking about x when you should be focusing on y’ argument is very dangerous, especially in the ‘close to home’ variety. It’s a classic way of getting people to stop caring. Yes, as individuals we can’t fling ourselves into all the possible good causes – there are far too many. But if there is something we can do, we should do it, and not worry if it’s the ‘wrong’ issue. That way paralysis lies.
- Identity politics is not something invented by the disgruntled to get one over on everyone else. It’s how politics actually works, unfortunately. It is simply the case that power and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few white men, and pretending to rise above that merely assents to the status quo. But finding your tribe doesn’t have to be about hatred. All of the arguments I’m advancing here are about how we need each other and how we’re connected. Arguing for equality is just that – white men still get to be equal.
- Protest marches are rituals. They have symbolic weight. They are not directly effective actions, but they are ways in which we can tell ourselves who we are and what we believe and feel ourselves to be part of something much bigger. They explore a potential reality – they make the space, for a little time, in which we (a ‘we’ that can be imagined in the march) are powerful, are together, can change something. The task then is to go out and live that possible world into existence.