On Saturday, after several days off work with a back injury, and on the day my son had a much needed hospital appointment, I was forced to accept that I wouldn't be joining a hundred thousand strangers and almost every good woman and man I know in marching through London, to voice my horror and disgust at President Trump and his administration. I felt gutted and envious not to be there, mainly because every marcher I know reported feeling uplifted, energised and more positively about the future than they had done in months (I could use some of that). But also because instead of spending the afternoon surrounded by the proactivity and sisterhood of the Women’s March, I had to sit in a waiting room with a phone and a large number of online naysayers for company. It felt much, I imagine, like watching Michael Flatley and an XFactor also-ran at Trump’s inauguration ball in the knowledge that one’s mates have tickets for Beyoncé and Springsteen at Obama’s do down the road.
“What’s the point?” the opposers lamented from their kitchens. “Democracy has spoken. Deal with it”, said the faceless eggs of Twitter. “Rabid feminists” is how one high-profile commentator elegantly described the marchers, while others critiqued the crowds and found them lacking in diversity, thus denying the commitment and political engagement of communities outside their own (anyone bothering to look beyond their own cynicism, narrow social media perimeters and a selectively reporting media outlets of choice could see protestors of all genders, races, ages and backgrounds).
And inevitably women were once again called out for doing feminism all wrong, via the classic “whataboutery” gambit. How dare feminists march against Washington DC when they should also be marching in Saudi Arabia?
And inevitably women were once again called out for doing feminism all wrong, via the classic “whataboutery” gambit. How dare feminists march against Washington DC when they should also be marching in Saudi Arabia? Who knew right-wing white men cared so very deeply about the human rights infringements against brown and black women in portions of the middle east and Africa? Not me, but they certainly have a point. By all means, voice the desperate plight of the persecuted women not directly affected by the decisions of Donald Trump. Please do snatch the moral high ground if you’re doing more than sitting in your smoking jacket in the penthouse suite of your ivory tower, by demonstrating and working usefully against rape, honour killings, domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. But if this is your best excuse for wholesale apathy about all misogyny - the belief that if one does not fight everything, then one might as well stand for nothing - then forgive us if we don’t bow apologetically to your all-inclusive righteousness.
Most baffling of all were those who were furious. Hopping, boiling mad that millions of women had chosen to take a walk. One should accept that not everyone gives a hoot about Donald Trump, and understand why some may prefer to stay in bed with tea and toast than to schlep a banner into the West End. No judgement here. But how is this something about which to be so angry? How is the act of millions of women marching in support of their sisters the thing that that really gets your goat, more than the pussy-grabbing, family planning-opposed, outright racist and dishonest president, self-aggrandising before bused-in audiences of acolytes? Damn these silly libtard girls and their politically correct, cuck menfolk for caring if their sisters, daughters and mothers might soon be forced to carry an unwanted foetus, for not welcoming a staggering 20% gender pay gap and woeful maternity rights in the US, that their president dismisses sexual assault as mere locker room talk! How dare they take an afternoon stroll and do so without violence or arrest? Shame on them. Far better to tweet your disapproval in the hope of advancing your soulless, opportunistic and self-serving brand as a contrarian and provocateur. Apathy, it would appear, is an inherently superior intellectual state than making a fuss about issues of global importance. There is apparently greater integrity in doing nothing than in doing something.
When and how did speaking up become more socially embarrassing than insulting the well-meaning acts of others? When did we decide voters should put up or shut up? Democracy, especially when built atop a labyrinth of proven lies and ever emerging allegations of electoral corruption, is never about blindly accepting the outcome of a vote conducted in its name. It’s about every citizen having the right to express his or her views, concerns and dissent in a law-abiding manner. Unchecked and unchallenged power is always dangerous. It is both our entitlement and obligation to question the work and policies of any elected government through whichever peaceful means we choose. And regardless of our feelings towards a fairly elected government in any country, we still have the right to demonstrate against a misogynistic society that enabled it to seize power.
When and how did speaking up become more socially embarrassing than insulting the well-meaning acts of others? When did we decide voters should put up or shut up?
Women and men stepped up on Saturday to do just that. To dismiss their acts as pointless is to ignore how we ended up here. If there’s one thing we can learn from the far right, it’s their great knack for building and stoking the fire of political movement. Trumpism was a minority movement that ultimately took the White House. Democratically elected Barack Obama was largely disempowered by the right-wing Tea Party movement in the US. Britain fell foul of the Brexit movement, with Remainers largely complacent in the face of a racist, zealous, impractical and outrightly dishonest campaign, trusting that good sense would automatically prevail. The far right has shown that significant minority movements of protest ultimately have the power to change the world. We liberals are in this mess because of the power of tenacious political movement against blind faith and handwringing. We are right to engage in similar activism for our own political ends. The apathetic may yet have cause to thank the estimated five million women, men and children globally who kickstarted a liberal movement on Saturday.
And if their actions fail to change policy or government directly, the Women’s March still did something extremely important. It showed anyone terrified that bigotry and extremism has become the new normal that in fact, it is anything but. Some five million people were openly horrified by the intentions of a Trump administration, unwilling to sit back and allow events to unfold without protest. Millions of people worldwide joined together to let one another know that we are not alone in this, we are not mere individuals rapidly losing our minds, sitting at home in front of rolling news, panic stricken and paralysed by the unfolding horror before us. We are many millions united against misogyny, racism, reproductive prison, corruption, dishonesty and dictatorship. We are united against hate. And even if on this basis alone, the Women’s March was an unmitigated triumph. I thank the five million women and men for marching on mine and every woman’s behalf. Next time, I promise to walk with you.