By Shea Howell

January 25, 2017

People around the globe came together to affirm the possibility of a future based on justice, love, and peace last week. There is no question that this was much more than a protest. This was a march to call forth the best of what we can become. Organizers said the Women’s March was to “affirm our shared humanity and to pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.” The organizers offered a “Guiding Vision and Statement of Principles that emphasized “Women’s Rights are Human Rights;” “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice;” “Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of violence;” and “accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color.”

The organizers drew on the legacy of revolutionary leadership naming 31 women who “paved the way” for us to march and who represent the global fight for freedom. They also acknowledged inspiration from “the movements before us – the suffragists and abolitionists, the Civil Rights Movement, the feminist movement, the American Indian Movement, Occupy Wall Street, Marriage Equality, Black Lives Matter, and more – by employing a decentralized, leader-full structure and focusing on an ambitious, fundamental and comprehensive agenda.”

Whatever the contradictions, this was a moment to be celebrated. Marches that move us toward stretching our humanity are an essential part of creating a better world. But they are not sufficient. The real question is what do we do the next day, and the next, and the next?

Many people that I talked to were already working to answer this question. Many had been working for years on issues facing their communities, challenging injustices, and developing alternative visions. But many were also new to politics. About 65% of those responding to the March survey said they had never been to a demonstration. For thousands upon thousands of people this global outpouring was made up of small conversations, human moments of laughter, fear, and joy mixed together in a spirit of hope.

We were in Washington DC on Friday. We found ourselves joining a march. We were not sure where it was headed, but the giant elephant with the “racism” sign made it clear this was group to join. All along people were stepping into the streets. Within a few minutes we heard an explosion. It was a tear gas shot. The first of several. There had been no effort to ask people to clear the streets. We were marching with babies in strollers, elders with canes, and people peacefully raising their voices. The tear gas was followed with pepper spray. We saw small groups of young people franticly trying to wash it out of their eyes. We saw fully militarized police, tanks, and army troops arrayed against demonstrators.  

Power is not frightened by pink hats. It moves swiftly to crush those who challenge it. When it does, it is often the young, the bold, and communities of color that are most directly targeted.

Over the next few days we are going to have to do some very strategic thinking. As we deepen our work to develop alternative visions, we are also going to have to expand our capacities for direct action and civil disobedience. We cannot pretend that the forces that brought us this administration will go away.

On Saturday I got a glimpse of how we can think more about what we need to do. On the sidewalk were individual white men with electronic megaphones. They were saying hateful things. Each one was surrounded by a small group of women. The women held affirming signs. They offered loud chants and songs, so we had an alternative message to the hate being broadcast. And they had fun while they were doing it.  

This seems a message for action. Box them in so they can’t move. Have more of us than there are of them. Provide an alternative vision and have as much fun as we can while we do it. We should have no illusions. But we should also have faith in our own possibilities.