Women protest President Donald Trump on Inauguration Day. (Alisdaire Hickson / CC BY-SA 2.0)
What comes after the women’s march against Donald Trump? That’s the question a woman asked Micah White, a co-creator of the Adbusters campaign that launched Occupy Wall Street.
“I’m not that interested in the march itself but in what comes afterwards,” the woman said. After the failures of the 2003 marches against the Iraq War, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter to win substantive policy changes, White wrote his new book, “The End of Protest,” to address the question of “what comes afterwards.”
“Without a clear path from march to power,” White writes in The Guardian, “the protest is destined to be an ineffective feelgood spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats. … it is all too easy to succumb to the false hope that a big splash is a transformative tsunami. … raising awareness and getting media attention is never enough. Frankly, neither brings the people closer to sovereign power.”
Today’s social activists have succumbed to one of the most enduring myths of contemporary American protest: the comforting belief that if you can get enough people into the streets from diverse demographics, largely unified behind a clear message, then our representatives will be forced to heed the crowd’s wishes.
If this story has ever been true, and I’m not so sure it has, then it hasn’t been the case since 1963, when 250,000 people marched on Washington for “jobs and freedom” and heard Martin Luther King Jr deliver his I Have a Dream speech. Less than a year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” in employment and housing.
But let’s be real: there are countless counter-examples of marches on Washington that failed: the 1913 march of women to demand the right to vote, the 1978 march for the Equal Rights Amendment, the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, the Million Man March of 1995, the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the inauguration protests against George W Bush’s second term in 2005 … the list is practically endless. Activists have a tendency to ignore repeated failure in favor of overemphasizing one or two anomalous minor victories.
The absolute failure of the 15 February 2003 anti-war protest, the largest synchronized global march in human history, was the last gasp of this tactic. Today’s nominally democratic governments would be more concerned by the absence of our marches, as that might suggest something darker is in the works.
The only way to make a government do what one wants is to win elections or win political wars, White continues. “Either we can march to the ballot box or the battleground; there is no third option.”
Right now, in America, there is no pro-democracy anti-establishment party that is capable of stepping forward, seizing power and governing. America needs a protest movement like Spain’s Podemos, Iceland’s Pirate Party or Italy’s Five Star Movement. These populist democratic movements are the prototype for the future of protest. Each has achieved surprising electoral victories in a short time, but what is more important is how they are changing the way power functions. …
The number one challenge standing in the way of an effective protest in America today is the inability of our social movements to actually govern. There might be a slight chance our protests could oust Trump, but there is no chance that our present-day movements could govern at all, let alone effectively.
That is because leaderless protesters don’t know how to make complex decisions together as movement. Occupy couldn’t even come up with its one demand.
Now we are seeing this capacity slowly develop among protest movements in Europe. However, until we can replicate their successes in America, the people will never be able to take back sovereignty and our protests remain an exercise in infantile futility.
And that is the great gift that the Women’s March on Washington could give us. May the angry women return home the day after the march to lead us toward a women-led hybrid movement-party in every state that is disciplined enough to govern, militantly local and single-mindedly devoted to actualizing a force capable of seizing control of city councils and mayorships during midterm elections across America in preparation for an electoral coup against the presidency in 2020.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly
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