This past weekend’s Families Belong Together demonstrations against Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies brought huge numbers of protesters out into the streets all around the United States for the fourth time this year. But what exactly does all the marching do, and how will it help the resistance win?
There have now been well over 20,000 protests since Trump took office, according to data from the Crowd Counting Consortium, involving some 15 million participants, in every corner of the country. Until the Women’s Marches that kicked off the resistance in January 2017, the country had almost never witnessed coordinated protests in more than 200 locations in a single day; over the last year and half, the resistance has broken this record time and time again. On 30 June, people marched against family separation and detention in more than 750 communities, from big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles to tiny towns like Antler, North Dakota, where 15 of the town’s 28 inhabitants turned out to take a stand.
The numbers are impressive, but if anyone thinks that mobilizations like these will miraculously lead Donald Trump to do an about-face on any of his policies, they are in for a disappointment: change typically doesn’t happen that way.
Mass marches in America, no matter how large, have almost never worked as short-term pressure tactics. Yes, the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act followed on the heels of the historic 1963 March on Washington, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr delivered his legendary I Have a Dream speech, but the influence of the march on the legislative victories was an indirect one.
Mass marches function first and foremost as movement-building tactics, giving people an immediate bodily sense of being part of something larger than themselves, a palpable experience of collective power. They’re an antidote to despair, countering the sense of paralysis that can come all too easily when the news is as demoralizing as it has been. When marches are effective, it’s because they feed into longer-term strategies, strengthening people’s willingness to undertake the other kinds of work that produce concrete change.
Until recently, the principal strategy of the grassroots resistance to Trump has been an electoral one: building toward the midterm elections, in the hope of electing a wave of progressives in November. At marches all around the country last weekend, people chanted “Vote, vote, vote!” and many participants redoubled their commitment to the essential but unglamorous work of making that happen.
After her stunning upset victory last week in a New York Democratic primary, progressive candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded people of the labor-intensive door-to-door outreach it took to win, posting photographs on Twitter of her worn-out first pair of campaign shoes and writing: “Respect the hustle.”
The horrors of forced family separation and the looming battle over the next supreme court nominee are leading many groups and individuals to realize that a second kind of strategy is needed as well, a civil resistance strategy based on wide-scale non-cooperation, the kind that has been used all around the world to counter authoritarian regimes.
—LA Kauffman, Dear resistance: marching is not enough