This weekend, about 50,000 people descended on Austin for the Women’s March, with millions more joining in similar marches worldwide. Thousands of those who packed downtown were students.
In the days following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, using his own focus on ratings and popularity against him was a deft move. No matter how he chooses to construct his own reality, he will have to deal with the fact that fewer people attended his inauguration than the protests that followed. Trump seems all too concerned with his own brand and legacy, and subverting that could lead to real policy change.
But toying with his ego cannot be the cornerstone of efforts to make good of what could prove to be one of the most dangerous choices the American people have ever made. Those opposed to Trump can’t just show their teeth for a weekend — they must also be willing to target their anger toward specific policy issues.
The promise of these marches comes in the organizing that can follow. And students are some of those best equipped to get out, make phone calls and knock on the doors of voters to make sure turnout rates don’t plummet during midterm elections like they usually do. Trump and his cabinet are almost unilaterally focused on enacting policies that will hurt women, people of color and members of the LGBT community — and students must recognize the role they can play in correcting the harm he will do to them before it affects them for the next half-century.
Fixing this will require crafting a narrative worth fighting for. While the Democratic Party has positioned itself as an a party that could represent everyone over the last eight years, they’ve steadily lost seats in legislative chambers nationwide. Fighting for the civil liberties that the Women’s March Unity Principles identify is a good place to start. But the marchers must go beyond that in the years to come to definitively tell all voters why the candidates they back will fight for them.
Marchers should hope for a modern left-leaning equivalent to the Tea Party, which changed American politics with fewer supporters by turning out in droves to vote in primaries and fielding candidates who marked a change in values. If the women and their allies who marched this weekend could similarly focus their anger toward achieving tangible results, it could alter the nation’s political landscape come 2018 and beyond.
Participation in democracy doesn’t start or end in a voting booth, and sending a message takes more than taking to the streets. Call your representatives at the local, state and national levels to let them know your concerns — and call for change if those who hold those offices don’t represent you. And most of all, when it comes time to vote again, march to the polls in even bigger numbers.