Across America, more people are demonstrating about something. Even more important, however, is that the demonstrations are more focused, better organized, and, increasingly, more successful at getting their messages across.
Protest Inspired By 'Divider-in-Chief'
Soon after Donald J. Trump took office in 2017, The New York Times noted his presidency has galvanized political activism to a level of passion not seen since the civil rights movement. The Womens March of Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, was the largest coordinated demonstration of its kind in American history. And it wasn’t just women, nor was it just in Washington. In Boise, for example, more than 5,000 people braved cold, soggy snow to march in protest of the Trump presidency and to rally on behalf of progressive issues. Revulsion at the antisocial positions espoused by Trump and others was reflected in marches and demonstrations that ultimately included more than 6 million people in 600 cities worldwide.
More than 5,000 people turned out in Boise on a snowy Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in support of the worldwide Women's March.
(c) Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman
Since then, American political winds have shifted, to the point that this year, Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of Congress and control government in 26 states, are concerned about how the map of influence will look after November.
The durability of the movement for change was reflected in additional rallies and marches, energized by yet another social justice cause, the “Me Too” movement on behalf of women objectified, assaulted, and abused in the workplace.
A succinct analysis of the evolution of American civic engagement comes from Beverly Gage, a professor of American Political History at Yale and author of “The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America In Its First Age of Terror, who wrote for The New York Times Magazine, “… the rapid turnover of today’s movements may actually be a sign of their success. “Occupy begat We Are the 99% begat Fast Food Forward begat $15 Now begat the Bernie Sanders campaign,” wrote Eric Liu in last year’s “You’re More Powerful Than You Think” — while the Tea Party “harnessed a radical anti-establishment spirit that seized and then consumed the Republican Party, fueled Donald Trump’s election, unleashed a new populism and created a ‘none-of-the-above’ opening for libertarians.” In this vision, we’re already living in a golden age of citizen activism, when even high school students have the tools to organize a nationwide protest in five weeks flat.”
Although a combination of circumstances and events in addition to the Donald Trump presidency have figured in the most recent revival of political activism, it is at least in part a reaction to the Tea Party movement that became an archconservative backlash in time for the 2010 Midterm Election. In 2013, four Harvard University professors wrote a paper on the impact of the Tea Party protests as shown in the 2010 election outcomes. They found higher levels of voter involvement translated into an increased Republican voter turnout – a shift that even surprised some more traditional GOP stalwarts for its mashup of white evangelical Christian “family values” and libertarian notions about small government and taxation. Newly elected officials and establishment Republican holdovers enacted legislation to appease the growing Tea Party activists, they wrote. The Tea Party had its single biggest demonstration on April 15, 2009, when upwards of 800,000 participants in more than 500 rallies nationwide. While this pales in comparison with the estimated 5.2 million marchers in the 2017 Womens March within the United States, the effect translated into a variety of electoral and political outcomes that the subsequent progressive, post-Trump movements are capitalizing upon with significant effect. As the Harvard study found, more people involved in activism translates to a greater impact at the polls. In addition, as the 2018 Womens March anniversary demonstrations showed, the current progressive activism is more durable and more coherent than any of the Tea Party rallies, to the point that, by the 2010 Tax Day rally a year after the first Tea Party march, attendance had dropped more than two-thirds, and for the 2011 Tax Day anniversary, there were just 145 events, down from 638 the year before. Within five years of its first big splash, the Tea Party had fallen to its lowest participation level ever, the Gallup Organization found. Political pundits have broadly proclaimed the movement “dead.”
br/>From CNN, via The Washington Post: Donald Trump and Billy Bush in the infamous, uncensored 2005 “grab ‘em by the pussy” video from “Access Hollywood.”
Even though the 2018 Women’s March reported about 400 events, down from about 600 in 2017, each of those demonstrations was at least six times larger than any Tea Party event. In addition, by the first anniversary of the 2017 post-inauguration Womens March, a host of other, more theme-specific organizations and movements had sprung up, suggesting the current citizen activism is both more durable and more committed, and capable of more dramatic political outcomes. The Women’s Marches effectively provided an opportunity for the many different progressive groups to both focus on specific themes and come together in collective actions, broadening participation and building coalitions.
The 2016 presidential election provided several important lessons beyond the stunning revelation that Russia interfered with the process and the fact that both Democrats and Republicans put forth the two most widely disliked candidates in American history. Among them is the reality that young people are not politically apathetic. We’ve known this for a long time, but the 2016 campaign, plus a rise of hate groups and “white supremacist” incidents, and the assassinations by gunfire at schools across America have brought wider attention to their concerns.
TransForm Idaho encourages citizen activism, action, and involvement in the democratic process, engagement with elected officials, and support of the broad social imperative that all of us deserve fair and equal treatment under the law. Our organization began, as so many others have, as a politically diverse and random collection of concerned Idaho voters who united in 2012 to oppose an onerous legislative proposal that would have required women contemplating abortion to undergo (at their own expense) an unnecessary and potentially dangerous invasive ultrasound exam. The bill was defeated, and we like to think our active protests helped make that happen.
Since then, we continue to advocate for what we regard as worthy causes, and to encourage everyone else to do the same. There are many, locally, nationally, and internationally. As a good starting point for finding your best fit, we recommend browsing the list of links available from The Resistance Manual, here.
Before you get involved in any movement, however, make sure you understand what the cause is — and what it's trying to achieve. CNN put together a list of 25 ways to become involved (regardless of your ideologies), which are here.
From Womens March Global, the international project “to amplify and activate issues using education, mobilization, dialogue, engagement and collective action in order to advance equality, justice, freedom and inclusion worldwide.”