Women’s March: A step in the right direction, but not enough

These past few days, I’ve been trying to make some sense of the different thoughts I’ve heard about the Women’s March. There are two major sentiments: the first comes from people reflecting on how impressive it was to see so many millions of people come together to hold peaceful, positive protests nationwide. The other comes from those who’ve correctly noted that these amazing numbers were possible in part because of how many white protestors, who have been significantly less present at POC-focused protests, came out this time. This, of course, begs the questions: “Why do you care now?” and “Where have you been?”

It seems to me that both of these sentiments are true and, in fact, connected. I think there is a direct correlation between the high concentration of white women at these protests and the peaceful nature of them. This is not because of some saintly commitment that whites have to peacekeeping but because of the very prejudices that BLM and other POC-focused movements are protesting.

In other words, a major prejudice that women face is the general impression that it is natural and right for them to be weak, submissive and co-dependent. This being said, it seems to make perfect sense and is so totally rad to come out to a giant march that essentially aims to declare “We are powerful!” in direct defiance of those projections.

People of color do not have this luxury. Historically, white people have depicted them as uncivilized or dangerous. This effort is present still in the choice of who is labeled “terrorists” as opposed to “shooters;” it is present in Darren Wilson telling a jury that an 18 year old boy looked like “Hulk Hogan,” like a “demon.” How complicated is it to organize a powerful protest that is aimed partially at countering these stereotypes? As opposed to us being inspired by defiant “girl power,” the reaction to these marches is much more wary: “Be careful out there!” or “Please stay home tonight! Protests on Grand!” And, when these protests do turn violent, they are quickly turned into “I told you so” moments by conservative political pundits and their avid followers.

When violence is the kind of behavior that is expected from a group of people, we must consider how these deeply ingrained assumptions affect the way those who police the event will react. I personally have never witnessed an outbreak of violence at the BLM demonstrations that I have attended, but we have all seen instances where overaggressive police have provoked violence for something as simple as not staying on the sidewalk. It was a very different picture at the Women’s March downtown. We were not only allowed to be in the streets, but there were even city blockades set up in anticipation of our arrival. We disturbed the peace; the police smiled at us. We chanted and sang; there were no counter-protests. We were allowed to set up loudspeakers; nobody was heckling. It was wonderful! But it also requires us to ask why this was the case.

To my white friends, specifically: What this means to me is that there IS power in solidarity. It means that if you showed up for this, and it was your first march, I am glad you were there. Now keep coming. In numbers, whites are still the majority in this nation. If we fail to add our voices to this movement, it will become quiet enough for those in power to ignore it. Do not let this happen. Make an effort to show up to POC-focused events. Although it is unjust, our presence contributes to the perception of civility and goodwill to those who are watching. It also proclaims that these are not just black issues or Muslim issues; they are human issues—issues that require only empathy to care about.

To conclude, I suppose I should say that protests and demonstrations are important, but there are other ways to work that are just as necessary. Make calls. Send emails. Support and read good journalism. Volunteer. Donate. Vote in local elections. Call people out when you see them using insensitive jokes, generalizations, or other harmful rhetoric (including if you see it coming from me!). And, in any way you can, keep fighting the good fight.