For a fleeting moment this morning, I woke up with my mind completely blank—the sun shining through my window blinds and the sounds of New York City leaking through my walls. Then, as a reflex, checking my iPhone and logging into Twitter, it all came rushing back: the jarring turmoil that the new presidential administration is bringing to our country at a rapid-fire pace. We’ve been attempting to track it here at Brooklyn Magazine, but, really, it’s moving so fast, and happening so swiftly, that tracking all of it is a difficult task.
Already, Donald Trump has signed a number of executive orders, and the political, social, and societal changes his term will create have incited outrage in millions. And while there is only so much people can do—luckily—our great country gives us the right of free speech, as well as the right to assemble, and therefore we may march and protest to voice our opposition.
I was one of millions who assembled this past weekend in support of the Women’s March on Washington and in protest of Trump on the first full day of his presidency. The experience was awe-inspiring, as so many people came together for one common goal—equality. In contrast, Trump was jettisoned into the White House on a campaign fueled by fear, xenophobia, and a constant base of braggadocious boasting (“I alone can fix this”). He’s not the leader that the majority of the American electorate voted for, and yet, due to our electoral college, here he is: representing all of us.
The question, now, is what can we do? Whenever a more conservative-thinking friend or acquaintance of mine questions why people protest for any given cause—be it the Women’s March, or Black Lives Matter, or against the Dakota Access Pipeline—I respond by rhetorically invoking Martin Luther King Jr, and his historic protests, particularly the 1965 March on Selma. Dr. King’s voice, combined with his movement’s actions, brought on change that would shape our nation forever. There was such an outcry, such a need to fix that outcry, that President Lyndon B. Johnson had no choice but to talk with King, to come up with some sort of a deal, or a compromise. This led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, perhaps the most important piece of legislature in our country’s history.
But today? Things look different, to say the least, particularly with the unbending GOP leadership that’s in place. There is so much of a polarized “Us” and “Them,” from both sides, that there is almost no semblance of a middle ground. Just recall the gridlock that Senate Leader Mitch McConnell led for near the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency. Unlike President Johnson, whose natural ideology, and that of those who surrounded him, made him unable to ignore the civil unrest on the streets; there doesn’t seem to be any such impulse in President Trump. His MO—based on his rather partisan inauguration speech and radical first few days in office—is not to ‘make a deal,’ as he so often claimed he would, but to do things his way, and his way only.
For a moment a few months ago, it seemed like protesting really did make a difference—the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline, poisoning so many of the indigenous people that simply want to hold onto the land that’s rightfully theirs without risking health, was halted. There was hope. But on Tuesday, only Trump’s fifth day in office, one signature had that pipeline back in construction.
So what is there to be done? With the GOP holding tight control of all three branches of government, progressive political victories at the national level before the midterm elections in 2018 are unlikely. It’s hard to pencil out where things will stand for America until then—too many variables are far from settled. In the meantime, protests may not bring the instantaneous, tangible change that so many want and that so many got in 1965, but they will continue to occur, and they will continue to matter. History books will rightly note the millions on the streets, and on the National Mall the day after Trump was sworn in. There will be photos of Donald Trump’s scantily-attended inauguration alongside the overwhelming numbers at Women’s Marches across the country (and world). Those pictures will tell 1000 words—a physical representation of the half of the country that did not vote for trump, and a more powerful symbol of our democracy than the new president’s speech on “american carnage” by far.