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The regenerative power of protests

Writing: Eilish Newmark

Illustration: Paola Valentina

On January 21st 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, I felt fortunate to take part in the Women’s March, which took place across the globe and attempted to tackle a variety of issues currently plaguing society, from gender inequality to racism to the environment. This was a united, intersectional, and powerful movement of people in over 20 countries who also felt marginalised and angry. My participation in the march increased my awareness of the feminist as well as the sexist behaviour happening around me everyday. Since the march, I have tried to find ways to educate myself on what it means to be an intersectional feminist and how to lead a more environmentally friendly life.

However, do protests like the Women’s March really have regenerative power on the long term political and social landscape? Or is it all too easy to feel satisfied by one day of activism? How can we harness the power of marches so that they have a lasting effect- and do we even need to? In many ways, the Women’s March kick-started, or re-started, a wave of activism for women’s rights in the Western world, from the Women’s March in Washington D.C. to the local groups of activists making small but momentous actions. It is easy to feel that a protest expends a lot of emotional energy on a single day while perhaps not making any large, visible political changes. It’s true that the majority of the marchers will have come out for one day of activism, only to go back to their everyday life without much change. So, is the power of one day overestimated?

Across the United States, thousands of women were empowered by the first Women’s March in 2017 to make the decision to run for local elections and become involved with politics. A record number of women ran for political office in the US in 2018, which also saw an unprecedented surge in independent organisations, fundraising, activism, and supporters. In the UK, the profile of grassroots campaigns, such as Free the Nipple, have been raised. This support has extended to larger political decisions, like saying ‘Yes’ to vital abortion reform in Ireland. The Women’s March did spark many local and individual decisions for change, and was a catalyst for the revolution that we need. Now in 2019, the annual Women’s March continues.

This year, there have been fractures to the movement, with allegations of anti-Semitism, a lack of LGBT representation, and concerns over financial transparency. It is hard for such a rapid movement of this size, with huge media coverage, not to be overwhelmed with tensions. Rather than no longer supporting and engaging with the Women’s March, I think that it needs our support now more than ever. In my view, we must keep willing each other to make small, personal, but significant decisions that will ultimately lead to large and systemic change. Equality is a long way off but, I think, the Women’s March is a necessary part of getting there. Whether you turn up for the day and make as much noise as possible to inspire others, or if you are one of ‘the others’ who get inspired, it is only as a unified group that we will bring about needed change. This does not mean turning away from the allegations made, but addressing them. There was, and is, positive and regenerative change coming from the Women’s March, and we must ensure it is this which prevails.

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