The health of the resistance movement seems to have become a matter of concern lately. I have engaged in discussions on social media and email with friends who are worried that after the Women’s Marches and other immediate actions such as the airport rescue demonstrations, the amazing energy we saw a couple of months ago has died down considerably. And, on this day, when the US House of Representatives passed the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace bill (AHCA), one might be inclined to think that the resistance has lost some of its mojo.
There was even an article in the Washington Post today asking whether or not the resistance has started to slow down. The Post article centered around interviews with Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who has been monitoring protests for several years. Her work focuses to a large extent on interviews with protesters in an attempt to understand the reasons for their actions, what demographics they may belong to, their previous political activity, and related questions. According to Fisher, a large number of new people have been coming to the protests in Washington, DC. From her perspective, after the March for Science and then the People’s Climate March, there is no indication that there has been any fall-off in enthusiasm. So, in terms of highly-visible protests, it appears that the answer is no, the resistance is still quite strong and perhaps growing stronger.
On the other hand, marches may not be the critical metric in determining whether or not popular movements have maintained their levels of activity. One could also look at calls and letters to Congress as well as participation in town hall meetings, Indivisible, Swing Left, and other networks, in addition to many other activities. One could also look at specific results. Here again, the reality of the AHCA repeal vote in the House might cause one to conclude that, after all of the calls, marches, etc., our movement has gotten weaker. Can this be true?
I don’t think it is true. No doubt, we are not at the peak level of activity seen in the first couple of weeks of the Trump administration. But this was an extremely unique period in US history as a new president came into office directly threatening minorities, nominating unqualified ideologues for cabinet positions, and attempting to roll back important environment protections and commitments with the stroke of a pin. The Women’s Marches were also a unique event, both in their mammoth size and their timing the day after the new president assumed office.
So, it was inevitable that the energy of those two weeks could not be maintained. That is not a bad thing. The resistance to Trump, the GOP in Congress, and their allies in the fossil fuel industry is a movement that combines many forces and tactics. As such, it is necessarily engaged for the long-term, meaning there will be natural ebbs and flows.
It could not be otherwise. Few people are able to overturn their lives to the extent that they suddenly become full-time activists. For the overwhelming majority who are active, they have to pick and choose their commitments and cannot be present at every major march or call their representatives every day. This is all to the good. What the resistance movement needs is steady commitment by as many people as possible at a sustainable level of activity. It does not need people who engage in intense activity for a short period of time and then burn out or become demoralized, possibly dropping out completely.
So, yes, we probably are down from the stratospheric activity levels of late January, but there is every indication that a large number of progressives and others have become committed to some form of meaningful activism over the long haul. The science and climate marches are one strong indication. But even more important are the continued town hall disruptions and the Indivisible networks which now number something like 600.
We also need to recognize that a lot of activism is at the local level and therefore not covered by the national press. Even public events such as town hall meetings held by Senators and Representatives tend to be covered only sporadically by the major newspapers and TV networks. Other activities such as workshops and trainings for prospective candidates for local office or for organizations fly completely under the radar.
Ultimately, we have to understand that social movements are much more than the activity that appears in public. At this particular moment, it is quite clear that there is a lot movement-building under the surface. As a result, sometimes extended periods may occur when public activity is relatively minimal. This is probably a good thing because it means that membership-building, organizing, and planning are taking place. From time to time, protests, demonstrations, and marches will take place. If the size of those marches were to decrease, we might conclude that the resistance is weakening. But the opposite clearly seems to be the case right now.