Women's March Organizers' Next Goal: Staying Power

Women's March Organizers' Next Goal: Staying Power
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP
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The Women’s March on Washington defied all expectations, drawing an estimated 500,000 protesters to the D.C. event alone, and many thousands more to sister demonstrations throughout the country. But what is next for the movement at large? Will it blossom into a political force akin to the Tea Party, which formed on the right following Barack Obama’s election eight years ago and pushed Republicans to a House majority in the 2010 midterms? Or will an overly broad focus splinter its efforts to counter the Trump administration’s agenda?

Organizers of the march are aware that the world is watching. Beyond solidifying their message of unity, they know the new battle will be to impose direction on a movement that represents a vast array of progressive issues. 

Women’s March National Committee member and Illinois Co-Coordinator Mrinalini Chakraborty told RealClearPolitics that while the initial goal was to inspire a new generation of activism, “people are hungry for next steps, so we need to keep them on their toes.”

Chakraborty and the other organizers hope to sustain engagement for their millions of supporters by focusing on Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, a timeframe that they believe typically sparks the greatest increase in opposition mobilization.

That is why they were ready with the launch of a new campaign on the day following the march, Chakraborty said. Their official site released an initiative called 10 Actions for the First 100 Days, urging supporters to take steps aimed at combating Trump administration policies enacted during the president’s first months in office.

The first action calls on supporters to write their senators and local legislators explaining why they participated in the march. Chakraborty said that personal stories are particularly important in influencing local lawmakers, who are often best equipped to enact immediate, tangible change for their constituents.

The next step for the organizers is to determine uses for possible excess funds raised during the course of march planning. As of Tuesday, the Crowdrise platform showed hundreds of donations were still pouring in. An audit is underway, but Chakraborty says that any remaining funds will likely be used toward building “what the Women’s March entity will look like – whether we will be an official organization or comprised of grassroots volunteers.”

Finally, they plan to ensure that the movement maintains its horizontal structure. This focus on community involvement, Chakraborty explained, is key to making sure the greatest number of people feel empowered. She stressed that the group will be focused on a “tiered effort that will include global, national, as well as state and local goals.”

This model has drawn comparisons to the Tea Party movement. Despite differing ideals, such modeling could be important for Democrats – after all, the conservative group was successful in capturing widespread electoral victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, and subsequently blunting much of President Obama’s agenda.

Tea Party Patriots Co-Founder Jenny Beth Martin echoed the Women’s March emphasis on local leadership, saying, “We very deliberately empowered local leaders. We had the same core values across all of the leadership around the country. We still had a national level of Tea Party Patriots – but they coordinated and supported, not told people what to do.”

Tea Party strategist Christina Botteri agreed, stressing that this approach allowed them to “reshape national politics, eliminate the Democratic bench, and elect [the GOP] candidate into the White House.”

Botteri attributed the Tea Party’s initial success to being able to “communicate ideas in culturally appropriate ways in each member’s part of the country.” This focus, she said, allowed local dialogue to be streamlined into a national message.

The Tea Party strategist also said that creating “unambiguous core principles” will be important for the Women’s March movement, regardless of how spread out its members are. “Organizing between factions can create problems,” Botteri elaborated, so while the march’s wide tent of issues is intersectional, it could possibly lead to some infighting along the way. 

Though the Tea Party flourished as a direct pushback against Obama’s election, she noted that it’s important for grassroots groups to move beyond guiding principles that are “personality-driven” and focus on ones that will create long-term policy proposals. Botteri warned that the “we-oppose-Donald-Trump tagline will not stand the test of time.”

Chakraborty doesn’t mind the Tea Party comparison and admits that the conservative group was effective, but says that the Women’s March organizers more directly drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. “We have the same kind of interest in [attracting] formerly nonpolitical people,” she says, “but our principles are so different.”

As for the criticism that the organizers have cast their net too wide, Chakraborty insists that was done purposefully. In its “Guiding Vision and Defining Principles” document released before the event, the group outlined its goal “to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.” These objectives, which include working for gender and economic justice, are far from the specific lists of demands often issued by other protest groups.

Chakraborty asserted that the document is “principles of unity, not a policy platform.” The organizers understood that supporters would all have specific, personal reasons for marching, so it was important that the group not box themselves in with a single mantra.

Going forward, however, Women’s March organizers plan to “break each principle down into a specific action item.” They will take their advocacy of LGBTQ equality, for instance, and translate that into a pathway for fighting anti-LGBTQ legislation in supporters’ communities.

The Women’s March movement also does not wish to focus solely on the new president. The overarching goal of Saturday’s event, Chakraborty said, was to march for basic human rights. The group will not shy away from saying that march was born out of “a troubling, populist political climate” fueled by Trump’s rise, but it  “sees no value in making it about a single person. …  Trump can be replaced; the ideology that he represents is much more insidious.”

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