The current social and political climate of the United States has not felt this nationally-charged since the Vietnam era. With little to no action or response from the government on major issues concerning the public, it is no surprise that Americans have taken to their own devices to try and enact change in the nation.
Political activism is one such example. The recent concerns of collusion and corruption in politics, prompted the largest voter turnout in the last century at the 2018 midterm elections. The millennial generation in particular showed up in droves to make sure that their voices were heard in changing the leadership that they felt did not represent them.
Another method of action people are utilizing is marches. These public displays of protest are being used to advocate for causes such as gun reform and women’s rights, specifically the rights and protections a woman should have to her body. This has always been a major issue in American politics, but it is at the forefront of our minds now more than ever due to the numerous sexual assault allegations against President Donald Trump, as well as the controversial appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
I’ve attended several marches in the past few years for multiple causes. For me personally, they bring a sense of community and power that often gets lost or destroyed in the maelstrom of politics. It is comforting to look around and see physical proof that you are not alone in your beliefs, that there are others willing to stand up for you or your cause. But are marches an effective strategy for achieving lasting societal or political change?
Marches have a long history in our nation, particularly with regard to the women’s rights movement. In the early 20th century, Suffragettes conducted many marches, among other demonstrations, in order to gain the right to vote. The most notable of their marches took place in Washington D.C., in 1913, the day prior to President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
The reaction was monumental. Crowds showed up to harass and impede the marchers, the police tasked with keeping peace at the event often joined in heckling the women. Over two-hundred people were recorded as being treated for injuries at local hospitals following the march.
Nothing so brazen had ever happened before. Before this, women stayed at home and only spoke about what was appropriate for their gender. Politics were a man’s subject. So the fact that women were simply standing up, walking out and raising their voices was not so simple at all. It was truly shocking for the time.
But things are not the same today. Women have rightfully charged their way into the workforce and politics among other areas over the past century. In the second wave feminist movement of the sixties, women burned their bras in the streets as a spectacle of shedding the restraints of a male-dominated society. Marching might not have been simple for the Suffragettes, but it is for our society.
In this dire time for our nation, it is important that we examine our tools of protest to determine what will effect the most change. In an era of 24-hour news feeds and instantly accessible breaking news on social media, it is easy for events to get lost or pushed down by newer stories. We as a nation forget massacres within a few weeks of their occurrence because there are so many of them. We are desensitized to them.
According to Melia Robinson, Skye Gould, and Samantha Lee of Business Insider, by November of 2018 there had been over three hundred mass shootings in the United States. These senseless acts of violence birthed the March for Our Lives movement, orchestrated by survivors of the Parkland High School shooting, which took the nation by storm with a series of marches and protests. No legislative progress on gun reform has been made, but the media and the public seem to have moved on to other issues.
Marches have become the default method of protest, and we are far too used to them for any one event to have media and political longevity. Times have changed, and our methods of protesting need to change with them. If we want to enact meaningful reform in our country, no matter what cause it concerns, then we need to learn how to shock the establishment once again.