“Where do I even start?”
This is what read on a large sign at the 2018 Cleveland Women’s March, fashioned out of a piece of cardboard and written in bold, black letters. On January 20th, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Cleveland to march for gender equality, democratic rights, and increased political participation. Despite the criticism that this march, and marches like it around the world, have been receiving over the past several months, I found it to be both proof that democracy in the United States is alive and well, and a useful stepping stone for future participation in the political arena by everyday citizens.
The event itself was a picture of diversity: every shade of skin walked together, older couples walked hand in hand, woman marched with their sons, and college age men marched with their female peers. Turnout for the event was high, it was organized well, and it seemed to be successfully pushing forward by using the momentum of the Women’s March on DC from the prior year. The march started at Public Square and circled around the city, with police assisting in blocking off roads to allow for the march to pass through intersections. Activists, political figures, and students spoke on the importance of voting and being allies for those in marginalized communities. Counter protests to the event were virtually nonexistent.
So, high levels of participation, cooperation with authorities, and an impassioned group of women (and men) in attendance – why all the hate? For many, events like this seem to create more noise than solutions, and some fail to see the value in gathering together for a few hours, walking around, and then going home to your comfortable, downtown apartment. Too many issues are being presented at once, and nothing can be solved when hundreds are trying to have the conversation at the same time.
However, what many fail to understand is that the very purpose of events like these is to present the issue to the public and to get others to understand that there is something that requires a solution in the first place. Critics are correct, no concrete piece of policy is going to arise from the crowds of any women’s march and get handed on to Congress. But it may encourage citizens to show up to the town halls, the open offices, the community debates, and help pass on ideas that can be made into more viable, policy based solutions. Events like these are what encourage people to call their representatives and register to vote, and those are the types of things that make a difference in the long run. No single action is going to enact an immediate change, but it can set off a chain reaction that may strike a larger blow than anyone could even imagine.
Additionally, it is critical to understand that politics are – by their very nature – intersectional. Race issues are not independent from economic issues, which are not independent from healthcare issues, which are not independent from feminist issues. While this may be overwhelming to think about, it is still important, and the sooner we understand the connections between these issues, the sooner we can create solutions that are effective in combatting as many as possible.
Finally, I found that the event itself served as proof that American democracy is alive and well – despite any recent shortcomings. While I may hesitate to say that democracy in the United States is not at risk, I do believe that the people marching for women’s rights, for science, and for gun control are making a powerful statement. These individuals are making it clear that they are angry, and impassioned, and they are not going to quiet down any time soon. As long as this kind of action continues to occur, American democracy will be incredibly difficult to breakdown.
I can understand the concern that some have about events like this, because there are certainly limitations to how much change it can enact in politics today. However, there is value in protest, in resistance, and to dismiss an event like this one because it cannot create immediate change would be ignorant. These events are easily accessible to those less-seasoned political activists, and serve as powerful and formative gateways to other kinds of political participation. The value does not lie in what does happen in that two-hour march, but rather in what could happen because of it. Events like these serve as a reminder to be present in politics, to protect the democratic values that we have worked so hard to get, and to pay attention to the issues around us.
To the answer the question raised by one tired, angry, and overwhelmed woman in January; where we start is right here, in Cleveland, Ohio, with an old piece of cardboard and a catchy slogan, ready to let the world know that change is coming.
Photo from Creative Commons