Marches do not have talking points. They do not require impeccable ideological credentials. They do not have well-developed platforms or policy implementation strategies. Expecting an authentic political march to have these things is to fail to understand the source of its power.
Many people who have written about this weekend’s Women’s March apparently do not understand this basic truth. A march happens when the system seems to fail, at the precise second when talking points and platforms have proven futile. A march comes out of the flashing instant when a people say “enough” and, putting down their pens or their smartphones or their machine tools or their dishcloths, they stand up to fight back.
A march is born in the moment when thousands at once feel the fireball of outrage hit their belly and the only word that splashes back up their throats is “No!” The power of a march is in the sheer physical confrontation that comes out of that instant.
All a march asks of you is feet on the street. It’s about showing solidarity around the core moment of outrage. No one feeling the fire is turned away. That’s because the impact does not come from the logic, it comes from the show of presence from as many bodies as will turn up.
I have been profoundly discouraged by all the whining media, many of them asserting themselves as arbiters of feminism, who have written columns and blogs saying, “Well, nice idea a women’s march, but there’s no well-thought out and widely published to-do list. It’s too much of a mess to be taken seriously.” These folks apparently cannot feel the fire in their belly. If that is the case, then shame on them. But the rest of us should not be daunted.
It is absolutely true that, in our complex and insecure times, marches need to be well protected by professionals and police. I do not begrudge that kind of planning. But to allow this Greek chorus of self-appointed arbiters to take away the hot blast of inarticulate indignation that is powering this crowd action because it is somehow not up to intellectual snuff is wrong. Ignore them. You are not being asked to appear on a political talk show or present a plan to Congress. You are just being asked to put your physical bulk behind a crisis. Don’t equivocate: put on your shoes and pitch up. You are going to want to be on the right side of history.
Two things hit me hard this week about the upcoming Women’s March.
One was the uproar about “allowing” self-identified feminists who oppose abortion to participate. Listen, this is not a condo board voting on a new neighbor. This is a march. A march is a time when you let differences, even some that may otherwise be important, drop back in favor of one big howl of outrage over the big picture shattering.
I mean, seriously, put yourself there: you are on the street in a crowd of people, all pushing toward the destination, all shouting the same slogans, all exuding the same outrage. You are going to stop and make sure everyone around you agrees to all the things on your “correct beliefs” list? Really? And then what? Make anyone who fails step to the curb? Please.
Tears came to my eyes when I read one of the leaders of the pro-life feminists saying they were coming anyway. She said, “I know people want to say we don’t exist, or we’re an oxymoron. But we do exist, and we are true feminists. We’re not just pro-lifers who are also feminists. We’re feminists, first and foremost.” It was such an act of faith, such a rare offer of conciliation over such a long and raw divide. I wanted to find that woman and say, “Bless you, sister, for seeing over the heads of all those who diminish us by trying to keep people who want to be part of this movement out. I understand your pain about abortion, even if I can’t agree with you. And I am glad that you and I both have a clear enough view of this real and present danger to drop our differences, lock arms, and stand as one solid wall.”
The second thing was the crowing story from Slate about how the organizers of the march had “finally” come up with an “unapologetically progressive” platform that basically attached so many sundry liberal causes to the event that you could no longer see the Women’s March at all. And then praised the new inclusive focus. Yeah. That list was not an effort at inclusion–it was very clearly intended to telegraph who was not welcome to this march. You have heard of “dog whistle politics”? What you are hearing here is the sound that dogs make to mark their turf. That kind of divisive pissing is what got us here. It’s not that I don’t support those liberal causes—I do, every one—but it’s time to stop marking ever finer lines and find the “us” in “them.”
Yesterday morning, I saw the inevitable next step: somebody saying it should not be a Women’s March, it should be a People’s March. And this is always the problem. Somehow the cause of women is never big enough. It doesn’t include enough people. Too trivial. Too narrow. Yeah. I’m glad the posters were already printed.
Folks, we are talking about half the people in this country and on this planet. The leadership of the United States government affects the lives of women everywhere. The issues at stake are quite literally life and death. What affects women eventually affects everyone and everything. There are no “bigger” issues.
And please consider this. Women have queued up to support causes under “inclusive” terms like “all mankind,” the gender-blind “he,” “peace on earth to all men of good will,” and even “all men are created equal” since the invention of language. Just this once, it seems to me, the guys can “man up” and show for a protest under the inclusive term, “Women’s March.”
For such “a mess,” the Women’s March is turning out to be a pretty major deal. I bought the very last train ticket between Providence and DC that wasn’t an overnight. I am worried about being able to buy a Metro card when I get there. And about whether my arthritic knees can stand the strain of all day on pavement. But I’ll be there.
There will be 616 “Sister Marches” all over the world on Saturday. In 57 countries. If you are not near one of the many cities where one of these marches is being held, light a candle, say a prayer, send white light or even a tweet. But be with us.
If you are near one of these cities, please reach across whatever ideological divide may be in your way. Set aside some of those well-articulated points of order. Stand up and get ready to do what crowds do best: roar.