The Women’s March: three million in the USA, 100,000 in London, countless smaller rallies elsewhere. It was flooded with first-timers, carrying homemade placards, a rallying point for people concerned about education, climate change, corruption, the US Supreme Court, health care, nuclear power and racism. But front and centre was Trump’s war on women, particularly around sexual harassment and abortion rights.
For millions of women it’s a first step towards a deeper, more political awareness of women’s oppression, but also the power of mass action to shake the establishment and actually change things. Raising loud and clear the issues of harassment and abortion also have the potential to draw in a much larger number of working class women who relate to both issues but are so far still on the sidelines. The fledgling movement has a forward momentum and huge potential.
All this talk of pussy hats and abortion has affronted transgender activists and supporters (eg here and here) since they exclude transwomen. These objections to “cis” issues dominating the marches are a break on the forward momentum of the movement, even while trans individuals may support other demands raised in the protests. This conservatism may turn out to be a growing embarrassment to those leftists who have given the trans trend unqualified support.
Such complaints from the trans community will jar with many women invigorated by the march who identify so strongly with its central pro-woman slogans. This creates the possibility for trans-critical progressives to break out of their isolation on the issue. But this will not happen automatically. Women inspired by the slogans of the march will be made to feel guilty about the “exclusionary nature” of their demands, which may even be watered down to accommodate trans sensitivities, setting back the political and numerical growth of future protests.
The way this contradiction plays out will depend in part on the actions of trans-critical feminists. Vast numbers of women and men are more receptive to new ideas than they were even a few weeks ago, and many will be open to ideas on how women’s rights and transgender demands interrelate.
The worst response to this is passivity and pessimism. Get out there and write on any platform you can!
Wider issues for the new movement
On all sides forces are work pulling down the forward momentum of the new movement. The religious Right is in overdrive: a twitter search on #womensmarch will show how much filth is being flung at feminism, most of the tweets using more or less identical wording (a reminder, if any were needed, that these people are no allies to us on the trans issue). Liberals are supporting future action, which is not surprising since it has not yet gone beyond liberal demands and slogans, and they need ground troops again Trump. All the same, much of their message aims to direct future action into electoral channels. The identity politics brigade are wagging their fingers at the marchers’ ideological imperfections. Against all this there is only the zest for further action at the ground level, and miniscule numbers of people on the Left.
Here is an immensely valuable article on strategies and tactics for leftists following the Women’s March. The writer, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and assistant professor in the department of African American studies at Princeton. Some excerpts:
The scale of the attack is as deep as it is wide, and this means that we will need a mass movement to confront it. To organize such a movement necessarily means that it will involve the previously uninitiated–those who are new to activism and organizing. We have to welcome those people and stop the arrogant and moralistic chastising of anyone who is not as “woke.”
The women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and around the country were stunning, inspiring and the first of a million steps that will be needed to build the resistance to Trump.
But look around social media, and you can read critiques and even denunciations of the marchers: Where were all of these people before? Why are they only getting involved now? Why doesn’t the march have more radical demands? Why did march organizers, who are politically liberal, allow only…liberals to speak?…
SHOULD THE marches have been more multiracial and working class? Yes! But you are not a serious organizer if that’s where your answer to the question ends. The issue for the left is how we get from where we are today to where we want to be in terms of making our marches Blacker, Browner and more working class. Simply complaining about it changes nothing…
The women’s marches were the beginning, not the end. What happens next will be decided by what we do. Movements do not come to us from heaven, fully formed and organized. They are built by actual people, with all their political questions, weaknesses and strengths.
If the left doesn’t engage with the aim of contending for leadership and influence, we just concede these forces to the Democrats and liberals, who will certainly try to confine the new upsurge of opposition to the political limits they want to define.
The point isn’t to bury our arguments, but to learn how to make them while operating in political arenas that aren’t just our own if we want to win people to more radical politics.
The order is rapidly fadin’
As I write protests have erupted against Trump’s monstrous bans against Muslims entering or re-entering the USA. Worldwide the leaders of capitalism are divided and reeling, opening space for action from below. Events on the ground are moving very fast. The time to get involved is now.