Resources to explain why we are protesting this administration
January 25, 2017 11:56 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has asked on Facebook what the marches on Saturday were all about. He states that he agrees with what most of the protest signs said, but he doesn't understand the point of "standing around with a sign." Are there any simple articles that explain what protests have accomplished through history or specifically what "the point" of the Women's March was?

He was really respectful in his request to understand better, and is not baiting or being combative. I am feeling so emotionally exhausted that I can't muster the energy to write paragraphs explaining why I myself participated--and I feel a little defensive, as though it shouldn't be that hard to understand and he must be willfully ignoring evidence or maybe spending time in the darker corners of the internet (?) to not see what's going on.

I am thinking there must be articles that already address this that I can link to--do you know of any good ones? I think he is asking both what protests in general can accomplish (since they are "just people standing around with signs") and specifically what last Saturday's Marches were about (since "even the people participating couldn't agree on what they were about"--I will be sure to send him the intersectional platform they created for one thing). Ideally, it would be great to have some that are more positive in tone rather than defensive or chiding (even though that's how I feel).

I apologize for shifting some emotional labor onto this community! I am really just looking for links to articles or resources rather than asking you to write out your own reasons for protesting or for you to defend what that means.

In solidarity.
posted by ialwayscryatendings to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, he's talking about, right? So if nothing else, it raised awareness that we are pissed and we're not going to take it.

What he's probably not seeing is the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on around protests. People pretty much network, we make action plans, we share information. In one group I'm in, for example, we keep each other informed of the phone calls we're making to our representatives; what we're saying, who we're calling, what they're saying back. It's incredibly valuable information.

People are also breaking into other groups, planning other protests, giving money to organizations like the ACLU, contacting their reps; hell, even running for office themselves!

There is tremendous value in knowing you aren't alone.
posted by cooker girl at 12:03 PM on January 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Here's an article about protests in history. Here's a whole section in the Times. And another article about protests. Maybe give him the links and tell him something like "protests have done a lot of very visible work throughout history. It's hard to ignore 3 million people wearing pink hats."
posted by clone boulevard at 12:07 PM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yep, just did a quick google search to find relevant stuff like this and this.

And absolutely seconding cooker girl's comment that there is tremendous value in knowing you're not alone, which in turn gives you strength to do all of the other things she lists.
posted by knownassociate at 12:10 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I put it to my sister as basically "A lot of us have been feeling like our values and rights are being dismissed, and Saturday was something positive that we could all do together." Then I give the example of how some Native Americans marched with signs about water rights, alongside some elderly ladies with signs about Medicare. Emphasize that these concerns are shared by many and that they aren't mutually exclusive, not by far. It was a "come one, come all" event for anyone who wanted to express their discontent and/or petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (<--- that last bit is great if he's a First Amendment purist)
posted by witchen at 12:12 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I marched so that when the president sends his lackeys to lie to the news crews by saying "no one cares about [insert topic here]" he cannot get away with it. It was to serve as a warning that (lots of) people will not stand the things that the administration is planning - would that many people support a general strike? or risk their physical safety in a more contentious or dangerous action? probably not in the current climate but give these fascists a few more weeks and we may see more grannies reaching for their black bandanas and M-16s.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:17 PM on January 25, 2017 [15 favorites]

Ask your friend to compare how they feel visiting a foreign country vs. being at home. Have them consider living with that level of discomfort or stress all the time.

That protest was only partially for your friend's eyes, if at all. There is *tremendous* value in seeing others like yourself. In seeing that you're not way off in the margins, but in fact much closer to the center than you (or others) had previously believed.

If they really want to understand, the reasons aren't hard to find - to the point that this is probably a case of "let me google that for you."
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:22 PM on January 25, 2017

I honestly don't understand how this question could be posed in good faith, unless your friend is cognitively challenged in some way or (perhaps) from another country and unfamiliar with the U.S. tradition of protest. I would say show him Selma, except how should he even need to be told about such a thing?
posted by praemunire at 12:27 PM on January 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Here's a very world-weary answer from an aging activist:

While all the feel good stuff is nice, the functional, big-picture point of modern day protests is media traction. Trump got elected and made news Day 1; we turned up and made news Day 2. Ain't no news media ever going to mention one without the other. Without the marches, you basically just get "Trump was inaugurated." With the marches, you get "Trump was inaugurated and 500,000 people protested." You want one to go with the other, forever and ever, amen.

Because this march was so huge, it also achieves a target organisers always hope their marches will achieve, but rarely do: signalling. The March on Washington signaled very clearly that there is enormous opposition to this leadership, that opponents are organised, and that opponents are willing to get off their asses and take to the streets in vast numbers, all over the nation. That is a message sent to the White House and to all elected representatives, loud and clear.

If your friend doubts the effectiveness of this signalling, perhaps refer him to a study of the impact of the Tea Party rallies on who ran, where, on what platforms; and on who voted how, both in the voting booths and in their elected seats.

In short: those rallies are how we ended up here. Feet on the ground in large numbers is an effective way to steer politics. In both directions.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:34 PM on January 25, 2017 [69 favorites]

I honestly don't understand how this question could be posed in good faith, unless your friend is cognitively challenged in some way or (perhaps) from another country and unfamiliar with the U.S. tradition of protest. I would say show him Selma, except how should he even need to be told about such a thing?

Unfortunately, this question is totally plausible. I have encountered more than one conservative person with the same opinion as OP's friend. They'll acknowledge past protests like the Civil Rights marches or throwing tea into the river as good, but at their heart they feel that was a different time and those people had legitimate grievances.

Protesting serves a number of purposes; one of the main ones is publicity. The Women's March notified a lot of people that a good chunk of the population was very angry about Trump. The contrast between the protest crowds and his inauguration crowds underlines this point.
posted by schroedinger at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Check out the References section of the Direct Action page on Wikipedia. The voting booth is not the only place where society changes. It changes in the streets and in our homes (and schools, churches, workplaces, etc.). Shifting the Overton window takes work. Direct Action like protesting is some of that work. I hear this question or similar complaints from many people who consider themselves liberal or moderate. I think we can provide some answers to them about how and why protesting works.

Congress needs to know that many people would back their actions if they impeached the president. Just voting against him does not do that. City officials need to know that people will continue to support them if they defy the administration by staying a sanctuary city. Just reelecting your city council does not do that. State officials need to know that marijuana can stay legal and people will not turn on them. Just voting yes does not do that. You have to keep telling the people in power how you feel.
posted by soelo at 12:49 PM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

People will express the contradictory opinions that they have no real confidence in their elected officials and that there's no accountability while simultaneously questioning why people protest. It blows my mind.

When a group is marginalized or in the minority, they must use any voice they can find -- both to sway the opinion of those in the majority, and to make it known that they will not abide by policies that harm or further disenfranchise. It's why organizations will ask people to gather or attend specific hearings to provide public testimony, and it's why on a larger scale marches and protests are important.

Marches are highly visible and show the populace that there are people who are not being heard, and demonstrate to those in office that their position is tenuous if they don't acknowledge the people outside their doors. Because people will keep marching, protesting, and showing up until there is change. For better or worse (worse), the Tea Party protests brought an awareness that caused a group of representatives to be elected who would not have otherwise made it into office. Highly motivated activism and loud voices do make change.
posted by mikeh at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2017

This isn't primarily about protesting per se but if he is genuinely unsure of why it was a women's march and what motivated many of the messages, show him this.

There were no consequences for his confessed crimes from the law, from his party, or from the electorate as a whole, so it is up to those people who care enough to protest to try to give him some.

I hate protests and I would have spent my Saturday doing something else if anybody had suggested anything better to do, but nobody did. If your friend has himself got a better idea, ask him to share. We can all use some more suggestions.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:09 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Man speaking here. My observation is that the WM was primarily organizational. It was by and for the benefit of the marchers to create interest, identify leaders, choose issues. It was not a big event on the calendar of some long established organization. Since it was focused inward, the messages received on the outside were fuzzy and mixed. A lot of what's been reported has sounded rather heavily contaminated with the reporter's expectation.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:10 PM on January 25, 2017

It's also a show of unity and of numbers. Individually, we all have to choose our battles, both what we fight for and how we fight. No one person has the time, the mental energy, or the money to fight everything that's wrong right now. What all these diverse individuals and groups accomplish in showing unity is to send a clear message that, while we all have different issues we focus on, and that many of us disagree on some of the specifics, we've got each others' backs, and we will join together to fight common enemies. And Trump is a common enemy.

Two consistent traits of bigots is that they're ignorant and they're cowardly. There was a minute there where Trump supporters were feeling kind of empowered, walking around assuming that everyone--or all white people, or all middle class or middle aged people, or whatever--was on their side. They're not the best informed, so they honestly seemed to think that they were a majority, because they're not reading real news that tells them otherwise. These marches brought that message right to their front door, or at least their local news. And, of course, being cowards, they'll remember that, and they'll feel a lot less comfortable going out and trying to spread their hateful messages in public now that they've seen that the public is not on their side. The Overton window, as soelo points out, is important. People are social animals, and we are much more heavily influenced by the opinions and attitudes of those around us than most like to admit. Seeing huge throngs of protestors who got up early on a Saturday to march against Trump and his ilk is a clear and potent reminder that this is fucked up, and it's not normal.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:06 PM on January 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

I would ask your friend what "a point" looks like.

"Make America Great" isn't a point either.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:34 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is a legitimate question, and one of many legitimate questions that people sometimes react badly to because they think the spirit of the thing is being argued rather than the method.

He's not asking whether women should be upset, he's asking what effect a protest, specifically, can have. I've thought about this a lot, too, being the kind of person who questions everything even when my first impulse is to agree.

Here's one extremely important benefit that I think a lot of people underestimate: it lets people all over the world know that they are not alone in being very very upset. That gives them an ability to act and speak with confidence that they would not otherwise have, and lets them know that their concern is likely merited since specific people share that concern.

If you were upset about this election, but you didn't think anyone else was, how would that affect your willingness to act? If you thought they were only a _little_ upset, but not enough to actually go anywhere or do anything, how would you behave then? Knowing that this many people are this upset, though, gives people the ability to act with some confidence.
posted by amtho at 5:30 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

A high school friend and I were interviewed by a local paper about why we were going to D.C. Independently of each other, we both said, amongst other things, that we wanted to show that he doesn't have a mandate. Now, I'm not sure he can understand, because he clearly creates his own reality, but we were seen. It wasn't just a message to Trump, but to other politicians behind him, that we here and we are watching and we are fighting.
posted by Ruki at 6:45 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a Quora post on the same subject with some historical references, a reddit post with some good answers, and an article on How Stuff Works.

I don't really grok protesting - I'm not dismissing it, I even got excited about the women's march, I just don't entirely understand it. So this is a very interesting question for me.
posted by bunderful at 7:48 PM on January 25, 2017

It's a message to the friends you haven't met yet that they have friends they haven't met yet.
posted by amtho at 8:46 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses! You have helped me articulate a lot of the reasons I was there, and reminded me again of the power I felt at the protest. I especially identify with the idea that these marches send a message to the administration and all legislators that we are watching and paying attention, and we are ready to fight for issues that we care about AND they send a message to each other (and the world) that we are not alone and can count on each other for support in that fight.

I can't choose a definitive "best answer"--thank you all for your considered answers!
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 8:17 AM on January 27, 2017

Just saw this NYT article linked on the current political thread on the blue. Here's a quote, but it's worth reading the whole thing.

...Stephen K. Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News who is a close adviser to Mr. Trump, has been seeking to paint the news media as Mr. Trump’s primary opposition. The weakened news media is an easy mark for Mr. Trump. If the media is his only opponent, he’s got nothing to worry about.

Unlike the news media, though, protesters produce an undeniable reality. Protesters can’t easily be dismissed as “fake news.” They come to you unmediated — not from The New York Times, but from your friends and friends of friends on Facebook.

They are, in other words, just another version of your social network — the physical manifestation of an outraged News Feed. Because they’re people you know, they can’t easily be maligned as biased or unfair.

posted by bunderful at 5:12 PM on January 30, 2017

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