Last Friday, Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office in front of a crowd of about 160,000 people. The next day, some 470,000 turned out for the Women’s March on Washington. They were joined by hundreds of thousands in other cities around the country and world. They supported a hodgepodge of progressive causes, from reproductive rights to environmentalism to decolonialism to anti-racism.
The marches, which were hailed by elated feminist observers as a representing a surge of the intersectional movement—which focuses on how oppression piles up along cleavages of race, class, gender, and more—saw zero reported arrests in Washington. Soon, social media was flooded by a wave of smug posts on the marchers’ supposedly superior protesting chops.
But weaknesses in the scaffolding of the movement’s big tent quickly become apparent. “When you brag that your protests had no arrests, I wonder what you think that says about you,” mused the writer Ijeoma Oluo, echoing many black activists. “Calling arrests in protests ‘stupid’,” wrote the Chicago activist Mykele Deville, “defecates on the legacy of those who defied law to bring about change through civil disobedience, property damage, and armed direct action.” The writer Eve Ewing remarked on Twitter that “not getting arrested in a march doesn't mean you're better than anybody,” continuing “The police state doesn't deem you a threat. So slow your roll."
Such tensions should not have been surprising. In fact, they were apparent well before the march. On inauguration day, 230 protestors were arrested after setting fire to a limousine, kicking in car windows, and hurling rocks through shop windows. One protestor socked the white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face as he gave a TV interview. The result was to set social networks abuzz as families fretted about taking their families to the march the following day.
In the weeks prior, the march’s National Committee, which at its outset had drawn fire for being made up entirely of white women, had incorporated several women of its mission page. “Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension.”
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