Monday, October 14

The Quad: The activism on display at LA’s Women’s March needs to go further

A broad but loosely affiliated coalition attended last Saturday's Women's March in downtown Los Angeles. (Jintak Han/Assistant Photo editor)

A broad but loosely affiliated coalition attended last Saturday's Women's March in downtown Los Angeles. (Jintak Han/Assistant Photo editor)

If there’s anything I learned from attending the Los Angeles Women’s March last weekend, it’s that energizing and engaging the masses is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

To be honest, I wouldn’t consider myself a firebrand grassroots protester or organizer. However, like many Americans and citizens of other nations around the world who marched in the collective women’s marches Saturday, the threats to women’s rights posed by a combination of a Donald Trump presidency, a Republican-controlled Congress and a potential majority-conservative Supreme Court were enough to get me to commit to march in downtown Los Angeles.

My position as a nontypical attendee of a march or protest is the exact reason that I seriously question how the Women’s March organizers’ broad attempt to form a grassroots coalition can translate into tangible results, both broadly speaking and here in Los Angeles.

Among my Facebook friends, many of my female acquaintances who attend UCLA – most of whom I would not consider politically active in the usual sense at UCLA – clicked “Interested” on the Facebook event for the march. In my case, those expressing interest went beyond the usual suspects that are involved in USAC and other political organizations on campus, including many people who have refrained from posting about politics on Facebook in the past.

[Related: UCLA students protest Trump at Los Angeles Women’s March]

When I followed up with some of them to coordinate transportation, however, most could not attend, citing work and prior commitments. I ended up arriving alone and meeting up with a fellow Daily Bruin columnist who has previously protested against Donald Trump.

Although I arrived on time at Pershing Square around 9:30 a.m., the march was delayed over an hour from its scheduled start of 10 a.m. due to the overwhelming crowds. I stood on top of a half wall at the Pershing Square station, trying to meet up with my aforementioned friend. The surrounding area was at capacity as throngs of marchers streamed out on escalators from the belly of the train station.

The atmosphere felt more like a festival than I’m sure many marchers would like to admit. Logistics in regards to march direction and crowd control were threadbare, phone service was near-nonexistent and there were food trucks galore. Miley Cyrus and other celebrities made speeches on a neighboring street.

Unlike crowd members at a festival or concert, marchers were largely polite in spite of the sheer number of bodies generating heat in an enclosed space. There were many parents with children. The signs they carried ranged from simple – such as one that simply said “Listen” – to other more colorful depictions of Donald Trump a la “James and the Giant Peach,” advocating impeachment.

[Related: Gallery: Women’s March Los Angeles]

As an LA area native, I happened to run into people I knew in high school, one of whom asked me to Boomerang her and her friend waving signs in Grand Park. Social media activism at its finest – albeit not slacktivism, since they did get off their couch after all.

In spite of the Women’s March’s inclusivity-minded mission, critics have said the march may be nothing more than a display of “safe, trendy” commodified white feminism and self-congratulating ally theater.

Although I wish I could say it was not the case, all in all, the events of Saturday’s local march demonstrated that many marchers were indeed guilty of a self-congratulatory and commodified form of feminism. The Women’s March movement may also be vulnerable to the same lack of focus that, despite broad popular support, caused 2011’s Occupy movement to splinter into decentralized grassroots movements of varying success.

Look no further than the social media focus of many in the crowd – just check Pershing Square’s location on Instagram – the lack of recognition of the one-sided nature of the genital-based message of the pink pussy hats and the celebrity speakers here in Los Angeles.

To a reluctant participant who overall agreed with the march’s message, ultimately, the Women’s March has merely added up to another social media-driven, Occupy Wall Street-style populist phenomenon whose fragile coalition is more prone to disintegration than collaboration, with a commodified and fashionably feminist bow on top.

I can’t deny it: The idea of sitting back and attending to business as usual on the first full day of Trump’s presidency did not sit well with me. I still commend the Women’s March organizers at the local and national level for bringing together and empowering a fractured anti-Trump populace on a day of what for many may have felt like a sick dystopian reality.

It’s also important to note that even in light of the overwhelming numbers who attended Saturday, no arrests were made and marchers remained peaceful. The commercialized festival-like atmosphere that came with the food trucks also brought foot traffic to local restaurants, supporting small businesses in the process. Although the appeal of the Women’s March remained in its uncritical, feminist blue-sky unity, there were, as there tend to be with grassroots movements, concrete positives.

However, here in California, in a city where mayor Eric Garcetti reaffirmed his commitment to protecting undocumented immigrants in November and one of our United States senators, Kamala Harris, spoke at the Washington, D.C., march, the LA Women’s March seemed like a show of smug and self-aggrandizing solidarity with the rest of the nation. It is, at least a few days after the march, not a real means by which LA’s majority-liberal but ideologically fragmented voting population could collaborate in order to facilitate political change.

In its first message post-march, the national Women’s March website calls for 10 actions for the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, beginning with writing to your senators on Women’s March-branded postcards – oh, the commoditization! In California’s case, our two senators Harris and Dianne Feinstein are already well aware of our concerns, and many of California’s House representatives did not attend Trump’s inauguration.

As Californians and UCLA students, we are privileged enough to live in a place that has demonstrated its resolve to resist a conservative Trump-led government on specific issues such as immigration, healthcare and women’s rights. The crowd of half a million demonstrates that in addition to the support of most of our government representatives, we have strength in numbers.

However, those numbers will only mean anything if the efforts of those numbers go beyond the safe, trendy and ultimately lazy white feminism that the Women’s March encapsulated for many groups, largely due to the fact it was founded solely by white women that have mobilized the nontypical march population using a mainstream brand of feminism that is largely uncritical of itself.

For the nontypical marcher at the Los Angeles Women’s March, I have a message for you, and for myself in the process: Claw your way out of your self-congratulatory liberal social media cave, put on your work boots and utilize tangible ways to engage voters and affect policy in both your local communities and other parts of the country, particularly where House and Senate seats will be up for re-election in 2018.

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