Paper 86: I Want To Start A Riot

After the inauguration of the Donald Trump on January 20th, 2017, a massive anti-Trump protest — known as the Women’s March — that spanned the country and the planet occurred. As the name might suggest, the demonstration was largely orchestrated by women, although some men were participants. It goes to show that in the 21st century, women are one of the most powerful agents of change in democracies. The Women’s March was well-organized, well-publicized, and well-attended, but it did have some problems. In this essay, we shall discuss these issues. This criticism is not meant to trivialize the intent or the impact of the demonstrations. On the contrary, in times of great social and political strife, our ability to introspect our own actions of resistance is most important. Empathy and self-improvement are paramount for any resistance. They are the main principles that separate the righteous from the corrupt, the noble from the lowly, and the oppressed from the oppressors.

It’s no doubt that the nation is in the grips of intense racial tensions — and even that might be an understatement. Donald Trump intensified tensions that were previously clandestine to many and gave racism a loud and vicious platform. It’s no surprise that examining data regarding voter demographics for the 2016 election reveals that a large majority of whites, and specifically white women, voted for Trump. Naturally, the question that emerges is: where were all the white women who took to the streets in droves on January 21st during the election? The reality is that white women in America have yet to negotiate the power they have because of their race and the lack of power they have because of their gender in a meaningful way. As a result, that population sways easily from one side to the other when provoked by an issue. Has a white woman’s whiteness been attacked? To its defense she comes! Has a white woman’s womanhood been attacked? To its defense she comes! Often times, these two reactions are at odds with each other. Until there is a serious national conversation about the value of intersectional feminism, the privileges of white womanhood, and the internalized racism that many white women carry, our efforts will continue to be plagues by this cognitive divide amongst white women.

Another problematic element of the marches was the over-exuberant use of the symbol of the white vagina as a representation of femininity. Although not all individuals utilized vulvic signs in the marches, the image of the white vagina was prominent in reports, online memes and images, and media pieces regarding the march. As a result, the white vagina has become immortalized as a sexual symbol of the march. The impact of this is multifaceted. Firstly, it serves to isolate members of the trans community. Secondly, it serves to isolate women of color. Thirdly, it implicitly perpetuates the racist notion that white femininity is the only valid form of femininity. Images are powerful and white vagina, and perhaps even the vagina in general, cannot continue to be the symbol of the resistance. It is a reductionist image that captures purely the physical essence of womanhood — a notion that as mentioned previously is harmful and exclusionary to trans and non-gender conforming individuals.

The use of vulvic signs throughout the marches was a result of the recent attacks made by Trump and his administration against women’s health and reproductive rights. Understandably, this issue impassioned many white women as it become evident that Trump would be willing to throw them under the bus for his own political gain. There were also protests reacting to other outrageous intentions that were laid out by Trump, including a Muslim registry and the construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States, as a result the march was a jumble of different intentions. While this might be fair in other situations it is dangerous in this particular situation. The cacophony of intentions fatigued the minds of the marchers and muddled the message of the march.

The overall theme of the protests seemed to be anti-Trump and it’s easy to see why this was so. Trump is evil personified. Trump is fascism personified. He’s spent the past couple of years painting himself as the image of many things that people consider vile: racism, sexism, greed, arrogance, the list goes on. For the resistance to be effective moving forward, we must not only be against Trump, we must be against the things he represents. Trump is simply the screen the movie is being played on, an effective resistance will need to focus on dismantling the projector and the whole damn movie theatre.

The final problem with the marches was in the follow through. A day after the marches, the organization responsible for facilitating the event at an international level launched 10 Actions 100 Days, an effort designed to continue to mobilize individuals after the marches. However, a day after is much too late to launch such an effort, at that point the energy had already begun to diminish. Change is the only constant in life and making it requires a great amount of endurance. While the high energy and strong attendance at the marches were great success metrics, they are irrelevant beyond optics. True change, especially under fascists regimes, takes time and energy. Mobilizing individuals for a single day of action is easier but not as effective as mobilizing them for consistent effort. Instead of being marketed as a single march, the protest should have been marketed as the start of a series of actions that will be taken against the Trump regime. This was not the case and I fear that the energy from the march will die down rapidly as a result.

It would do me well at this point to remind the reader that the march was a perfectly valid and powerful form of protest. Moving forward, our community will need to internalize some of the lessons learned from this protest and use them to improve the diversity, impact, and endurance of our resistance. In our next acts of resistance, we should strive to be cognizant of the language and imagery that we use to represent our qualms, mindful of the differing individuals and perspectives around us, and prepared to dedicate our energy to the fight beyond a single day.