April 7, 2020

The March

By Stephen Tuttle | Jan. 28, 2017

That was a pretty impressive beginning as protests go. Millions of women -- and men too -- gathered all over the country, including thousands here in northern Michigan.

There were plenty of issues in evidence, but mostly they were protesting the manifest misogyny of President Donald Trump. Having gotten the attention of the country and the world – there were also marches in many other countries – the logical question becomes: what now? 

It is unlikely the new president was much moved by the demonstrations. His instincts are to demean and attempt to diminish opinions other than his own as evidenced by his mistaken assumption the marchers didn't vote. The next step, as is his wont, will be late night “mean girl” tweets.

This is a movement that will now have to decide what it wants to be, if anything. If it was a one-off, it was a good one but the story will have ended when the marches did.

Is it just anti-Trump? Is it gender-specific? Is it the new leadership of a progressive agenda? Is it rank partisanship?

Trump is not likely to be dissuaded from any notion he has ever had – he equates changing his mind or compromising with losing –  so his social and legislative agendas will need to be resisted elsewhere. 

Congress, where partisanship and the money that flows with it are more important than issues, is almost a lost cause. A handful of GOP senators were vocal in their criticism of Trump during the campaign, so it's possible public pressure could move them on some issues. But it isn't that likely.

If the agenda here was the protection of progressive ideas instead of just not liking Trump, the battles will have to be fought at the local level. The smorgasbord of issues evident on signs during the march all have their genesis in state legislatures. Issues like reproductive rights, violence against women, LGBT legislation, protecting the environment and others can be more easily supported, or opposed, in smaller legislative races. That's where votes, and pressure, have the most impact.

Democrats, who currently carry the banner of what passes for progressive politics, have been taking a beating at the state level since 2010.

There are 98 state legislative bodies, 49 states with both a house of representatives and senate (Nebraska holds non-partisan elections and has only one legislative body in their unicameral system). Republicans control both houses in 32 states. 

That's important because most state legislatures have the authority to redraw congressional and legislative district maps every ten years. When they dominated the 2010 elections they won the right to control district boundaries. It's a fairly significant advantage. 

Seven states have no congressional redistricting because they have but a single congressional district. But they all redraw legislative lines. In 37 states the state legislature has the sole power and authority to do so. Republicans control both houses in 30 of those states.

Any progressive agenda, partisan or not, has to be pushed locally. It starts by electing people least likely to redistrict that agenda into oblivion. There are only two election cycles until the next round of redistricting, so there should be a certain urgency.

The march was exciting and must have been invigorating and empowering for the participants. But it will mean little for their cause if those who oppose most everything they favor continue their dominance in state legislatures.

The criticism of the march was quick, pointed and wrong. While it's true enough the likes of Madonna trying to out-vulgar our Vulgarian-in-Chief and some acts of violence didn't accomplish much, the idea that protest movements don't work defies history.

The civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movements, both of which were rife with large marches, were instrumental in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act and ending the war in southeast Asia. Those protests lasted years and were accompanied by legislative action items, but neither started with anything near the size or exuberance of the Women's March.  

To be fair, not every woman is on board with the anti-Trump group. After all, while Hillary Clinton won handily among all women voters, nearly 54 percent of white women voted for Trump. Like all movements, this one will ignite opposition, counter-protests and backlash. 

Successful movements require persistence, patience, ongoing communications and a clear objective. Social media will be helpful to that cause and one assumes many such addresses were exchanged and recorded. Politics will have to be played if marchers want a voice loud enough to influence legislative outcomes.

The simultaneous marches around the country were, by any standard, extraordinary. But they will be just a pleasant memory unless the movement continues to actually move. This could be the moment a new social and political force was born. If so, the next chapter will be worth reading.   

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