By the time January 21 rolled around, like millions of other women, I’d had enough. Having watched a man so divisive and vile be elected and sworn in as president, shouting: “From this day forward it is going to be only America first, America first!” I was ready to march. I was ready to stand up and shout back that “women’s rights are human rights!” I was overjoyed by the number of women online saying “we’re on our way” and “these feet were made for marching.” For the first time in many months I felt just a bit more hopeful and little less full of despair, and I wanted nothing more than to get out there and join them.
The trouble is, I couldn’t march.
Some days I can barely even stand up. I’ve battled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the last 3 years, and on that Saturday – having spent several days stuck in bed with a migraine – I knew that there was little chance of me making it down the stairs, let alone out of the house and through a noisy march. I know that I am far from alone in this.
Being unable to get out and take part in protests and demonstrations is a problem faced by many people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and it can feel incredibly isolating, especially when they’re about issues that often affect us directly. It is frustrating to be stuck at home, not able to go out and make your voice heard. So, not being content with doing nothing, I turned on my laptop and I did what I could – virtually.
If there’s one thing all sides seem able to agree on, it’s that social media is to blame for all of the ills that currently befall our society. Fake news and the filter bubble have contributed to a polarization of our politics, and slacktivism has led to a population that doesn’t properly engage with political action anymore. We can silence those who disagree with us with the click of a “block” button, and we console ourselves that we’re defending our beliefs by spending 30 seconds signing an online petition. I believe that much of the current political climate can be understood as a by-product of not yet having developed the social norms to navigate the internet.
But it’s also true that social media, and the internet more widely, has great potential to increase political activism, to help us burst our filter bubbles, and most importantly to me personally, allow those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to stand up and march to have our voices heard.
While all of those fantastic women were painting placards and preparing to march for my rights, I did what I could to campaign from my bed. I logged onto Facebook and sent messages to friends – encouraging those who I knew were already planning to go and sending information to those who I thought might not know what was happening, but would want to go if they did know. And once they were out there protesting, I followed the photos and videos streaming in from around the world. This, in particular, gave me the ability to remotely engage with and feel part of a protest that I would otherwise have been completely cut off from. I was surprised at just how much seeing posts of other people’s placards cheered me up, and I felt just as strong a sense of unity with them as if I had seen them marching next to me.
While others were busy marching and shouting chants, I spent my time reading and learning. I researched the non-governmental organizations sponsoring and partnering with the march, learned about the work they were doing, and chose one to make a donation to with the money I would have spent travelling to the march. What’s more, as the protest posts started streaming in, so did the “Why this Woman Does NOT Support the March” posts from Trump supporters, so I read them. I spent my time educating myself on what “the other side” thinks. This is of vital importance to anyone who hopes to make progress with the issues these marches are about.
We can go out (or stay in) and march and feel a sense of solidarity, and that is fantastic and should be done, but in order to protect women’s rights, LGBT rights, our climate, and so many other things under threat from Trump, we are going to have to engage with those that do not already agree with us.
Whilst I would have given many things to have been out there standing up with my sisters, defending our rights against these very real and worrying threats, I hope that on this occasion, I managed to successfully put that time and money to good use. Sadly, I and many others are not counted among the 100,000 in London or 500,000 in Washington, and it would be fantastic if we could find a way to change that. Perhaps we can find a way of quantifying virtual engagement with a march.
But next time you want to denounce Facebook for causing the mess we’re in, or rail against those lazy slacktivists, consider that for some of us this is all we have to work with, and it has the potential to do much good.