Participation in mass political action can be curiously therapeutic. Whether it speaks to a hardwired genetic drive for togetherness, or satisfies a psychological hunger for empathy, there is something palliative about taking to the streets with hundreds of thousands of like-minded souls for a cause one believes in.
Palliative – not curative. Because though it relieves the pain one experiences in the wake of a perceived injustice, it does little to deal with the cause of the condition.
My attendance at the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, an event that attracted around half a million people, was supremely uplifting. Solidarity cannot be explained, it is experienced, and its power can only truly be known at moments of acute crisis – such as the inauguration. Immersion in a crowd of thousands who see the world as you see it, and recognize the same evils, is deeply rewarding when reconciling one’s moral paradigm with reality is all too often a profoundly lonely enterprise.
No matter how independent we like to think we are, we all yearn for collective validation of our emotions. We want to know it’s okay to yell out that Donald Trump’s administration is racist, sexist, and anti-gay. The Women’s March on Washington gave those of us dismayed at his presidency that validation. For my part, I also hope it offered women some reassurance that their male allies understand their fears and will fight alongside them against any threat coming down the road.
And yet the next day I couldn’t shake off a depression that had first settled on November 8, and only deepened last Friday. Donald Trump is now President Trump, and by all the moral precepts I hold dear there is nothing I can do to change that fact for four long years. Ironically, this sense of helplessness was only sharpened when marching past the White House late on Saturday. The crowd chanted: “We won’t go away, welcome to your first day,” and yet we did go away – in our coaches down the interstate back to New York. Meanwhile Trump stayed in the White House, unburdened by the 500,000 screaming in his backyard, secure in the knowledge that they alone cannot remove him from office.
It’s a helplessness borne from the fact that I know I can never do enough to stop him. I do not have enough money to fund every action against him. I do not have enough time to devote to all the causes I want to defend against him.
Yes, I know that there is power in mass organization. I know that on my own I am but a precious liberal snowflake liable to melt, but alongside millions of brothers and sisters can become an avalanche to bury my enemies. Yet Saturday witnessed just such an avalanche and my enemies are still standing. And as much as I hate to say it, rightly so. Three million nationwide marched against Trump on January 21. Sixty-three million nationwide voted for him on November 8. We can’t expect him to simply go, or take a moment to reconsider his agenda, because we made a lot of noise on one day.
As much as I agree with one of the most popular chants of Saturday – “This is what democracy looks like” – the democratic action that really matters in this country takes place on election days. The Women’s March was a powerful statement of intent, and a shining example of solidarity in the face of oppression – but protest alone will not save us.
We have to do more. We have to take the energy from these marches and turn them to coalition-building, to vote-winning. We have to take the message three million marched for, to those 63 million. We cannot abandon representative democracy just yet. If we can commit to beating Donald Trump at his own game – the election game – then on November 6 2018 we can get rid of the Republican congressional majority. And on November 3 2020 get rid of Donald Trump himself.
Perhaps focusing on these landmarks will help shake the depression that is yet to lift, no matter how very far away they seem today.