This past weekend the Women’s March on Washington took place in DC, with corresponding events across the country. Interestingly, it received vigorous criticism from segments of the activist community, most of it surrounding the veracity of the event’s participants.
Of course, it is important for experienced activists to exercise caution when dealing with issues of proprietorship; so as not to become like the fan of the indie band or the losing sports team who becomes hostile to new fans when the band becomes popular or the team starts winning.
But it is not difficult to understand where the criticism is coming from.
Consider first the media coverage of the event, which, in both the lead-up and during, was substantial and near universally favorable. Contrast this with how activist movements are usually treated in the mainstream media. Recognize how Black Lives Matter protesters are often portrayed. Remember the complete mainstream media blackout on the Bernie Sanders marches. Examine the combination of indifference and derision towards the Standing Rock water protectors, even while private security contractors and the National Guard alike tortured peaceful Americans with flash grenades, rubber bullets, freezing water hoses, and, dog maulings.
Consider next, the original name proposed for the event — The Million Woman March. By referencing the Million Man March for civil rights, perhaps an indication of the self-estimation of the cause. Of course, civil rights activists in the 1960s were often, quite literally, putting their lives on the line, facing violence and hostile opinion.
It is not difficult to look at the amount of money being spent by attendees of the event in Washington — airfare, accommodations, the pink shirts everyone was encouraged to buy and wear, dinners in restaurants, etc. — and imagine the event as some sort of sterilized experiential getaway for the wealthy.
Something like a corporate hunting trip, where people spend all day sitting in a lodge, then walk out onto a raised platform where animal feed has been scattered below and shoot the animals who come to eat the feed. Like ‘hunting’ without the hunt, it is activism without media opposition, the threat of violence, or the imperative of bringing others to your position.
It is perhaps understandable that people get pissed off when it feels like somebody is buying a weekend pass to their lives.
There is, however, a flip side to be discussed.
Say what you will about the Women’s March, it was certainly well attended, with estimates for the March and its related events around the country surpassing one million attendees.
It appears as though, like the early 20th century and again in the 1960s, we may be entering into a Golden Age in which large portions of the public become engaged with activist causes.
Perhaps protesting against Trump is protesting a symptom, somewhat diversionary from the chasm of inequality that now stands as our foundation. But the crucial point is: Protesting.
Imagine someone freshly aware of the horrors of the world around them and now anxious to become involved in the solution. They have no contacts in the activist community. As they peruse around for ideas perhaps the first thing they come upon is the Women’s March; as previously mentioned, it was well-advertised and well-reviewed. While there may or may not have been people at the March looking to purchase virtue through sanitized faux-reality, there were many more people well-meaning but unequipped to use their voice in a more complex way.
Activists certainly have grounds to criticize certain events or movements, especially those which are so frivolous as to approach satire, for diverting real energy from tangible results. But the well-meaning yet inexperienced activist can be caught in the crossfire, feeling as though they are being maliciously excluded from a private club.
Experienced activists should not see an influx of the newly engaged, or those desiring to step their activism up to the next level as a challenge; that someone less informed, less committed, who did less work than you might take comparable credit.
Rather they should see themselves as custodians of a golden age. That the everyday public has taken to marching in the streets is historically rare, and activists should relish in the opportunity to provide insight and advice to those looking for when and how to use their voice.
This piece was originally published on Medium.