I marched in one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches on January 21st, 2017, surrounded by thousands of fellow activists. We were pissed off, empowered, and vocal in our demands. For so many of us, it was our first time getting political. Last year, the march felt like the beginning of a movement. It was powerful. You could feel the energy humming in the air, as though change was rushing forward with deliberate speed. We were going to make a difference, that collective energy assured us, and the next 4 years was going to serve as proof of our commitment.
For many of us who marched, the next 12 months bore no resemblance to what our lives had once been. We got involved, we found initiatives to support and groups to join that were doing good, necessary work. We put our representatives on notice, calling, writing, and visiting their offices as often as we could. We tracked legislation. We joined our local Democratic parties and dove into canvassing and phone banking to get good people elected and find additional volunteers. Many took the ultimate step and decided to run for office. Resisting and community organizing became our part time jobs on top of the full time jobs we were already working to support our families. We kept the promises we made to ourselves and each other during those marches, when we could feel the power running through the crowds.
I have to admit, I wasn’t excited for the Women’s March this year. It frustrated me to see that many of the folks who were the most eager to attend were ones I hadn’t seen do much at all in the 12 months since the inaugural march. Some of these folks contact me from time to time to ask when the next march or protest is. They have their signs ready to go, they assure me, and want to know who we’re going to stick it to this time. When I tell these folks about a petition gathering event for a ballot initiative or encourage them to canvass to get a municipal candidate in office, they are not interested in getting involved. I’ve learned over the last year that there are many people who only want to attend marches. I don’t understand this, because marches don’t actually change anything. Hard work and organizing in your community makes change. Getting people into office who will represent your values and do what is best for their constituents makes changes. And, bonus, once these people are in office, we won’t have to march or protest to show our displeasure at how out of touch they are. That’s the point of all this, isn’t it?
Marching is cathartic. The energy is infectious in that big crowd and many of those marching are also working hard in their communities. It’s good to have an event to blow off steam that’s built up over the last several months of bone wearing work. Attending that first Women’s March was transformative for me, and it lit a fire under my ass that is still blazing. I know that to be true for many of my sisters and brothers in arms, and I’m thankful for them because they keep me motivated when the struggle seems endless and futile.
But marching simply to march doesn’t create change. A march without follow on action doesn’t do anything at all.
So, if you find yourself fired up after this year’s Women’s Marches, take that energy and funnel it into organizing in your community. Midterm elections are insanely important and we’re running out of time to get ready. All 435 seats are up for grabs in the US House of Representatives as well as 33 seats in the US Senate. There are 14 gubernatorial races this year, as well as hundreds of state Senate and House seats, and thousands of county and municipal offices. Everything is at stake. Let that electric energy carry you into this year with renewed focus. Get involved, if you haven’t already. It’s not too late. Your local Democratic Party needs you desperately. Your local branch of the ACLU or NAACP. And if no one is organizing in the way you think your community needs, pull some friends together and create your own group. It’s hard work, but rewarding. You’ll meet some of the greatest people you’ve ever known. You’ll be inspired each and every day. And when that change starts rolling in on that fabled Blue Wave, you will know you did your part, which is a feeling I can’t describe to those who haven’t yet felt it.
Marching engenders solidarity, but that solidarity is merely illusory if you don’t turn that heady feeling into action. I’m illogically optimistic for the direction of this country. I’ve seen what can happen in 12 short months when a determined group of ragtag members of the resistance work tirelessly. So, don’t just march, organize.