Yes, Protests Matter. Even Now.

Today, in the aftermath of an inauguration speech characterized by the promise of isolationism and fear, over half a million protestors came together to march on Washington, D.C. Thousands more walked into the streets in other cities throughout the United States and around the world. Here’s why, even in the shadow of the Trump administration, those protests still matter.

asheville women's march

Image by Andy Gmitter

Donald Trump has made a career of being “tough”. He says what he thinks, he does what he wants, and he’s not about to get pushed around by a pathetic bunch of whiners. Today’s protest, no matter how massive, is unlikely to change any policy decisions he plans to implement in the next 99 days (although of course we all look forward to reading the 3:00 a.m. meltdown when he realizes more people turned out to protest than came to his inauguration). Similarly, the last eight years have demonstrated a new Republican strategy of politics as a zero-sum game; there is no longer room, it seems, for working together toward a greater good for all. It seems apparent, in fact, that any conversation between conservatives and liberals at this point in history is doomed due to the inability of either party to translate the language of the universe next door.

Given the disconnect, the partisanship, and the blatant callousness of our new President and his supporters, it is easy to dismiss today’s protests as a futile effort, perhaps good for morale but with no substantial effect on the future. But that completely misses a larger perspective, both in what the protests mean for today and in what they create for the future.

Don’t dismiss the importance of morale. Liberals woke up the day after the election with the dazed sense that the nightmare was now their waking life. The visceral fear that many of us felt, for ourselves, our loved ones, and for strangers we have never met, was overwhelming. And one foundation stone of that fear was the question of how it is even possible for so many people to vote for a man whose entire campaign was blatantly dedicated to bigotry and xenophobia. There is much needed comfort in seeing just how many people are willing to stand up against him and the principles he espouses. And yes, it’s bolstering to see a physical demonstration of the fact that they are the majority.

Protests draw more protestors. Recent studies have demonstrated an unexpected cause and effect related to protests: participating in a political action such as marches actually changes the beliefs and behavior of the participants. Someone who comes to a march with a friend, for example, but may not be particularly committed to the cause is much more likely to walk away from that action convinced of the veracity of the movement. And yes, that translates into further action and voting decisions.

Not all Republicans are so sure of their position (and a few are possibly even not evil). Though the newly installed President and his closest supporters may seem intractable, that is not necessarily the case for all Republican Congressmen…or their supporters. Several high ranking members of Congress have already begun questioning the demands of their leader, and there’s nothing like seeing half a million people blocking your way to work to make you question how you want to legislate. And it’s worth bearing in mind that not all Republican voters are comfortable with the new Commander-In-Chief, either. The massive turnout today is a powerful reminder that perhaps one’s party should not override one’s conscience.

This protest lays the groundwork for action to come. Coordinating protests on this scale requires systemic organization of everything from communications and outreach to permits and parking. Many different groups have been involved in bringing the Women’s March together, and as a result we now have a standing and viable system for the quick dissemination of information and calls to action. It is crucially important to understand that this protest, on the very first day of the new Presidency, is only the beginning. What matters more is what happens every day after today. Sustained and significant pressure will be required to convince larger swaths of legislators to hold fast against misguided or dangerous legislation. Protest actions must begin again and again, immediately after such legislation is introduced. We now have the essential systems in place to make sure that happens.

Time for a New Monster?

It has been a week since the election that will put Donald Trump in the White House. In that time, the news has been flooded by articles on how such a widely unpredicted result could have become manifest. Low black voter turnout, white women unexpectedly choosing Trump, the poor and the disenfranchised deciding this man will be their champion, ignorance, racism, misogyny, Islamophobia…all have done their rounds. And while we can debate their relative merit all day long, such an argument ignores the crucial point that all these individual “causes” have a common core: fear.

The article on how we counteract that fear is for another day, however. Today, let’s talk about how we embrace it. A vast majority of us are afraid, whether of our government or of the terrorists who may lurk in our midsts. And that’s nothing particularly new, but the sudden shift in our leadership promises to bring our fears sharply into focus. “Corrupt Government” doesn’t seem to cut it when you’re seriously discussing whether or not the new administration will build deportation camps or embrace torture as an interrogation technique. “Terrorism” fails to capture the sensation of finding swastikas scrawled over the walls of our cities. It’s a brave new world, and with it will surely come monsters.

As I discussed extensively quite a while back, the dominant monster of any era can reveal much about the fears of the culture which promotes it. A decade ago, the dominant monster was the vampire, seductive representative of the corporate culture threatening to drain us all dry. Since that time we have moved on through zombies, an obvious recognition of our own increasingly “brain dead” and pacified state, and the frightening rate at which the symptoms seemed to spread. We have been slowly losing our fascination with zombies, however, and so particularly now, in the aftermath of one of the most polarizing elections in American history, we are likely to choose a new demon to haunt our fevered dreams.

What will it be?

To answer that question, we must consider what we need in a monster, what fears and internal threats must it manifest in order to carry out its function? It seems likely that in the coming months we will require a monster that reflects our more base, more bestial traits as we are confronted with the human consequences of many of President Trump’s proposed policies. Nothing like babies howling as they are wrenched from the arms of their immigrant mothers or fathers breaking down on camera describing how, with the loss of state-subsidized insurance, he cannot treat his child for brain cancer to bring us face to face with the animalistic cruelty lurking in our lizard-brain. So my bet is on the return of the hybrids: werewolves, werecats, maybe some werebears if we’re lucky. There’s also a certain poetic satisfaction in imagining our own destruction by shapeshifter; consider it the Native Americans’ long-overdue revenge. The hybrids we are likely to bring upon ourselves in our upcoming fiction will be motivated neither by cold calculation (as were our vampires) or mindless hunger (as were the zombies), but by rage and the feverish desire to wreak destruction. It’s important to note, however, that while traditionally hybrids have only transformed to their powerful, animalistic aspect at night (and only on certain nights, at that), we can expect some reimagining in the new versions (after all, vampires weren’t always sexy). Our new monsters won’t be afraid to confront us in the daylight. In fact, they will prowl fearlessly down our mainstreets to confront us in our cafes and boutiques. They will enter our homes without knocking while we’re still sipping our morning coffee and do their worst. We will discover that silver bullets were always just a myth; these creatures have broken free of the moon’s influence and have no weakness against her metal. They are bigger than us, stronger than us, and beyond reason. Only by banding together do we stand a chance against them.

But therein lies the crux of any monster mythology: we create the embodiment of our fears, and eventually we create a way to defeat them. Vampires require a stake in the heart or a thorough dose of revealing and purifying sunshine. Zombies require utter destruction of the brain (or endless care and maintenance)…by those who can still think. And what will be the solution to our new, more fearsome than ever, race of hybrids? We can’t yet say what solutions we might find, but we can certainly predict that one of them will be to stick together and watch each other’s backs.