A Look Back At Other Marches In History, And What They Accomplished

Jan 22, 2017
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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

So the question now is - how significant were these massive protests, and what will come out of them? For another perspective, we're joined now by Leah Wright Rigueur. She's an assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an expert on U.S. political and social history. She's on the line from Hartford, Conn. Hi.

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Great to have you on the show. This was President Trump's first full day on the job. Has this happened to other presidents so quickly, so early in their tenure?

RIGUEUR: Well, I think we've seen it happen actually before with some of the presidents. We've seen it happen with, say, Woodrow Wilson, and interestingly with the same kind of context, women marching for their rights. The difference with this is the size and the scope. This wasn't just a domestic march. It was a global march with women all over the world and men and their allies participating, you know, in countries across the nation and in cities across the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How significant were they, in your view, in this historical perspective?

RIGUEUR: In this historical perspective, I think it's one - it's a historic moment. So we have one of the largest marches on Washington, but also in cities across the country and across the world. And all told together in the United States, we're now looking at statistics of about - a movement of about - it's between 2 and 3 million people marching for women and for women's rights. That's massive. And I think it's important to consider that, you know, in this contemporary moment it suggests that there will be resistance and there will be dissent for our incoming administration.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess the question is what turns a political protest, maybe a one-off, into a movement, something that can be sustained? What needs to happen to this anger?

RIGUEUR: Absolutely. So I think actually that the anger and the motivation that the people, the participants in these marches had is actually - is incredibly valuable. But that has to translate into something that is institutionalized and has structure. So we have to move - right? - from protest to something else because while protest is an excellent way of people voicing their dissent - it's incredibly patriotic, it's a way for people who have felt powerless to have their voices heard and to get people who have never been active in politics before finally active - it has to translate into something concrete, tangible that will actually resist in the face of all of these - you know, the potential for all of these policies and significant political change.

So if we can't - if we don't see institutions and structures come out of this moment, then it becomes simply a visible kind of protest movement when really what we're looking for is something like longevity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Looking at who was at these protests yesterday, you're seeing so many disparate groups. They have a lot of different interests, things that they were pushing. How do you bring those people together? If you look at other protest movement in the past, what has created change in government policy?

RIGUEUR: Right. So I want to - you know, some of the most effective protests that we've seen in the past, something like the March on Washington movements both in the 1940s and in the 1960s, one of the big things in addition to visibility is the long-term organizational and institutional groundwork that goes into those moments, right? So when A. Philip Randolph or Bayard Rustin are organizing, they're doing that - or Ella Baker, they're doing that before, right? There's a lot of work that goes into that. And then they're immediately translating that into some kind of force, whether it be lobbying, whether it be having people run for Congress, whether it be organizing on the ground or on a state-by-state level.

Those are the kinds of things that we're going to see - that we need to see. Additionally - and this I know has been a sensitive issue with the women's marches - intersectionality or the kind of positioning of women of color, of, you know, LGBTQ, of class issues. Those are going to be instrumental to having a unified and a solid kind of protest movement that turns into something tangible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Reaching out to other people across the line. Leah Wright Rigueur from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She joined us on Skype. Thanks for being with us.

RIGUEUR: Oh, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.