PHOTO: KATIE DOYLE
To everyone who doesn't think the Women's March will "do anything". You're entirely missing the point. It already has.
Two days ago, hundreds of thousands of women gathered for the Women's March on Washington, and millions more around the world. Along with the celebrations, tributes, and countless incredible images, came the fallout: think pieces explaining why the march didn't work. Hashtags asking why we even needed a march in the first place.
And no later than Saturday evening, a piece by respected journalist Julia Ioffe, 'When Protest Fails', for the very respected The Atlantic. I hated it.
Ioffe's main objection to the march is one I'm starting to see everywhere:
"Too much diversity of purpose; no real political path forward; and the real potential for the meaning of the day to melt into self-congratulatory complacency."
Comparing the Women's March to other protests is, at best, not relevant.
Ioffe writes dismissively about the "clever" signs. "Someone even made a papier-mâché vagina dentata," she sneers.
She compares Saturday unfavorably to the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement, because it wasn't backed up by support from within the government. She also says it reminds her of failed protests in Russia.
But the Women's March wasn't in Russia. It wasn't in Egypt. It wasn't triggered by one crime. To insist all protests share the same features—or that they'll all hit the same dead ends—is to reduce them all to nothing.
The Women's March doesn't owe anybody an elevator pitch. No protest does.
The point of a protest is to show up. To express dissatisfaction with a political outcome that was meant to represent you and say, "No, this doesn't represent me." That's exactly what happened.
Why there's no one "cause" for the Women's March.
People worried, like Ioffe, about the cause being "diluted" should think about the myriad causes currently threatened by the new U.S. President. Try, for starters, access to healthcare, access to abortion care, the rights of immigrants, the rights of minorities, LGBTQ rights, approaches to foreign intervention that aren't going to start wars, climate change, housing issues…Are we really still in any doubt about how much all these issues are bound together?
The Women's March was about raising voices for those who are vulnerable. Which in Trump's America is a hell of a lot of people.
There's no such thing as "too late".
Not before the planet goes up in flames, anyway. Ioffe says she spoke to women at the Washington march who "reluctantly acknowledged that they were late".
"Rallying and making funny signs is easy," she writes. "Winning real power in American politics is not."
So what, stay home?
Not turning up (say, to vote) might be what got us here, sure. But to say turning up is useless is a weird double logic. It's a lame excuse to disengage, and to give up on progress.
Millions of people marched this week, by any estimate. And it didn't feel like people trying to pat themselves on the back for being liberal. It felt like people who were anxious, who were trying, finally, to get involved. To educate themselves, and stand for something bigger.
It felt like people thinking very hard about what comes next, and as even Ioffe noted, like a country energizing for the elections in 2018.
And all this stuff about "bickering" needs to stop. Now.
One of Ioffe's complaints about the March was the "bickering" of the organizers. But like writer Jia Tolentino argued in The New Yorker, this is part of any protest—imagine, like she does, if the French resistance had been organized on Facebook.
For some reason, women are expected to present a united front in order to prove they are legitimate. There are divisions—which as many point out, is why we need the march, along with the "bickering" and all of these conversations, especially the ones about intersectionality.
There's a reason Roxane Gay called her book Bad Feminist. If we're only allowed to push for change once we're perfect, it will never happen. I was at the march in New York, and the first to say I'm the embodiment of a lot of the problems here: white, privileged, jumping on the bandwagon very late in the game. But at the march, I was able to meet activists, women of color, women who've been working for years and sacrificing enormous amounts of time to issues I've only recently learned about. I otherwise would not have met or even heard about them and their work.
But now I have. I believe, and hope, it will be harder than Ioffe thinks for "the meaning of the day to melt into self-congratulatory complacency". Because these women weren't just inspiring, they were teaching me and inviting me to get on board. And I'm thankful.
"The march taught me things," is a very privileged statement. But it did. And that matters.
No one is trying to keep men out.
Ioffe, like so many others, is disappointingly eager to take the title of the march as an exclusion. "It’s hard to see how women achieve their political ends without bringing men on board," she writes.
Ugh. No one is saying men can't be on board. Like Tolentino writes, "It seems likely to me that many women have taken this march as a rare opportunity to devote no thought whatsoever to what men might, or might not, decide to do."
And most of the men marching (and there were quite a few) seemed to get that. Refreshingly, so did millions of people around the world.
The march felt like a big deal. Yes, we need to work to channel all that energy into political action. But it felt like the start of something. It felt like a serious warning to a government that does ultimately depend on being, and staying, elected. Maybe it was just a day full of optimistic feelings—but feelings are what made people vote for Trump, and Barack Obama for that matter.
And if there's one thing we learned from Obama, it's that optimism is powerful. It's not easy, though. It needs teeth to survive. Kind of like that vagina dentata.