In a little under two years, the Women’s March has gone from a cornerstone of the #resistance to a controversial event filled with problematic figures. We’re just 24 hours from the March and sponsors continues to lose sponsors; in just the past two weeks the Democratic National Committee, the Southern Poverty Law Center and EMILY’s List have all stepped back. I am not here to rehash issues with the Women’s March and its leaders, which have been explored here and examined elsewhere. (I could add, however, that those issues were not helped when this week co-chair Tamika Mallory appeared on The View and once again refused to disavow Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.) But in all seriousness, it doesn’t help to go backward. We need to look forward.
The question is what now? What do we do when out idols are torn down? The easiest answer is back off. March in the literal opposite direction and retreat into our homes, back into our “normal” lives with a million demands and responsibilities. Some women (in all likelihood, white women) might look at our modest gains over the past few months and feel satisfied. We won back the House of Representatives! Watching Nancy Pelosi become Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is a delight!
Some people might wonder, “What do we need to march for? Aren’t we back on the right track?” Spoiler: We aren’t. We still have far to go to restore the balance in American democracy. We have a 2020 election coming up, a president desperate to lift sanctions on Russiaand a Republican Party obsessed with spending 27 billion dollars on a border wall that some of their own members have said they don’t need. There is no time to mourn our pink hats. Now is the time to redouble our efforts. Generations of activists will tell you that consensus is impossible and that the real work of coalition is hard.
As a Jewish woman, to me coalition building doesn’t mean walking arm in arm with women who can’t seem to apologize for or reckon with anti-Semitism, but it does mean figuring out how to remain 100 percent committed to the principles that the Women’s March stood for.
As a Jewish woman, to me coalition building doesn’t mean walking arm in arm with women who can’t seem to apologize for or reckon with anti-Semitism, but it does mean figuring out how to remain 100 percent committed to the principles that the Women’s March stood for, even if the march itself is no longer a form I want my activism to take. The Women’s March gave a group of disenfranchised people a means to have their voices heard. It was a conduit for activism. That work continues.
In January 2016 a lot of us didn’t know the first thing about how to enact change. Many of us had never volunteer at any political organization whatsoever. I had just started to get involved in the Arena, an organization that trains progressive candidates and their staffers. I now serve on Arena’s board, but before 2015 I was just a presidential election-season Democrat who cared about elections every four years, if that. I was not alone. Many of us didn’t know how to get involved. In fact many of the grassroots organizations we look to now for guidance and galvanization didn’t even exist, and a lot of Americans (again, a lot of white liberals) were traumatized by an election that had not gone the way we thought it would.
The world has changed a lot since the election of Donald J. Trump. There has been an activism renaissance and there are now tons of activist organizations working to push for change—from Flippable, which focuses on state legislature to Swing Left, which takes aim at congressional and state-house races to Indivisible, which seeks to help Americans get involved in advocacy work, and Run for Something, which supports young people running for office. And groups like Sister District and EMILY’s List have redoubled their efforts under Trump. All of these organizations give citizens who care opportunities to enact change. If the Women’s March has let you down as a Jewish woman or otherwise, that’s no reason to give up on the hard, crucial work of activism. Nor is it an excuse to avoid hard conversations with people about anti-Semitism, racism, ableism, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and on and on. All it means is that the Women’s March served a unique purpose in 2017, rallying millions of women nationwide to think bigger than themselves and get used to showing up and speaking out. Two years later, we’re still here, and we can find new ways to be loud.
The Women’s March served a unique purpose in 2017, rallying millions of women nationwide to think bigger than themselves and get used to showing up and speaking out. Two years later, we’re still here, and we can find new ways to be loud.
Complacency is how we ended up with a President Trump. The idea that we didn’t need to take action, that the government would take care of itself. That we didn’t need to learn from black women, and join in their fight. That good would always defeat bad no matter how much effort we did or didn’t put in. Democratic institutions, it turns out, do not run like a perpetual motion clock. And they weren’t perfect to begin with, either.
Perhaps the legacy of the Women’s March is that a lot more of us could change the world than we’ve been led to believe. A 28-year-old can start the year as a bartender and end it as an congresswoman, if she puts in the time and work. Two Muslim women and two Native American women can get elected to the House of Representatives, not because people have warmed up to the idea of change, but because these women insisted that we do and then stood up to be the first.
It’s never about one march, even a great march. The power never rests with the organizers, no matter how accomplished they are. We are the march. We are the leaders. We all have so much more to do. More protests to attend. More campaigns to support. More voices to lift up. More races to run. More organizations to support. We don’t need to despair over imperfect leaders, we need to step up. Activism isn’t just hats. Activism is about change, real change. In homes and offices. In state legislatures. In the White House. We’re just getting started.
Molly Jong-Fast is the author of three novels. Follow her on Twitter at @mollyjongfast.