You can’t claim to be a part of the resistance if you’re not willing to be uncomfortable and take risks.
One year ago, I joined hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and took to the streets for the Women’s March. It was a crisp, cold day in Seattle and as I marched through the streets with my kids, I was flush with hope. After an election cycle that filled me with despair, I needed an outlet for my grief and to know I wasn’t alone. The collective commitment to action and resistance took my breath away.
But I didn’t attend the Women’s March this year. After a year of resistance that has often felt like battling the raging waters of a flood with a straw, I know that we need more than marches to prevail: We need the steely determination to act every day, big and small — and in uncomfortable and challenging ways.
I believe in the power of protest. But protest without a clear, actionable goal feels performative at best. A day spent wearing pussy hats and snapping selfies in front of witty protest signs won’t change the world we live in. The protests I’ve attended that have led to demonstrable change have focused on a single issue and protesters haven’t shied away from risk.
In Washington, D.C., a few months ago, disabled protesters were dragged from their wheelchairs and arrested to prevent the repeal of Obamacare; last year, throughout the country, protesters clogged airports and disrupted air travel to prevent the implementation of the Muslim travel ban. It’s taken the courage and bravery of protesters to push back against the Trump agenda, but it’s precisely these actions that many of the attendees of the Women’s March decry.
Last year’s Women’s March looked like no protest I’ve ever attended. There were few police in attendance and none of them wore riot gear. They smiled at protesters and helped them make their way through the crowd. Likewise, the crowd was smiling and happy, pleased to be taking part in an historic event. There were no battle cries — in fact, the organizers requested that it be silent. As much as it meant to me at the time, I quickly realized the event was performance, not protest.
The problem with performance is that it all too often takes the place of protest. When people attend the Women’s March, they believe they are resisting; they believe this what resistance looks like. They smile, feel pleased, and go home without ever making a dent in the nightmare we’re living in.
Of course, many of these people wouldn’t attend another type of protest: one where they might get sprayed with tear gas, arrested, or hurt. But that’s the point, isn’t it? You can’t claim to be a part of the resistance if you’re not willing to be uncomfortable and take risks.
There are many ways to resist, and you don’t have to attend a protest. You can resist by immersing yourself in the works of marginalized people — and paying them for them. You can resist by volunteering on a Democratic campaign to flip Congress. You can resist by donating money and time to one of hundreds of organizations making meaningful change. You can resist by paying women, disabled people, and people of color equal wages. You can resist by unlearning your own biases and harm, and committing to doing better. You can even resist by telling your racist uncle that you won’t tolerate racism. But you can’t resist by performing resistance without backing it up with real, concrete action.
Last year’s Women’s March meant many things to many people. I’m not here to challenge that or to tell you that your experience was wrong. I’m here to say that marching once a year isn’t enough. It can’t be enough.
If you care about resistance, find a way to act. Let the Women’s March inspire you to re-commit to resistance. But don’t pretend that pinkwashing resistance is resistance in and of itself. It’ll take much more from all of us to prevail.