I didn’t show up for the Women’s’ March on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. I didn’t go to DC or join the local Oakland and San Francisco manifestations. I was way too sick to go anywhere, but I hadn’t been planning to anyway. What were we going to protest? That Donald Trump won the election? That Hillary lost? That Trump’s in Putin’s pocket? That Trump is a pussy grabbing, wall building, climate change denying, health care abolishing, tax dodging, shit spewing demagogue? That his campaign nevertheless struck a chord in the heartland that Hillary’s did not and enabled him to win the electoral college? That he promised to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership? (As he did within his first few days in office.)
Were we to protest because Trump wants to create a Muslim registry? That’s not good, but Bush did that.
It was called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) or INS Special Registration. Obama maintained it until December 22, 2016, when he dismantled it so Trump would have to start over.
Were we to protest because Trump might withdraw U.S. troops from Europe’s borders with Russia? During the week of the inauguration, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reassured us that President Obama had greatly reduced the risk of that by deploying thousands more troops to Norway and Poland on his last two days in office, meaning that there are now more troops deployed in Europe than at any time since World War II. “Here’s the question,” Maddow said, “Is the new president gonna take those troops out? After all the speculation, after all the worry, we are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president. We’re about to find out if the new president of our country is going to do what Russia wants once he’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military starting noon on Friday. What is he gonna do with those deployments? Watch this space. Seriously.”
Even if I hadn’t been sick, I was disinclined to march, but I switched on the broadcast reporting, alternating between CNN, MSNBC, Democracy Now, and a raw video livestream, so this is my response to the broadcast spectacle, not to the event as experienced in the streets. A number of my friends who were in the streets were elated by the size and energy of the crowds and say they had a more radical, more promising experience than what I saw broadcast. Chris Hedges, speaking to TruthDig, described the march as “tepid,” but said that this is how movements start and that it might grow into a more radical challenge. Not necessarily, but it might.
I hadn’t expected to be much interested in the broadcasts for the same reasons I was disinclined to go, but I was immediately mesmerized by what a carefully staged and confined spectacle it was, by what it accepted and what it didn’t, at least as broadcast. The most glaring exclusions were opposition to U.S. wars, to NSA spying on our every phone call and our daily lives, and to Wall Street financialization schemes that led to the 2008 crash, the bank bailout, the foreclosures and the destruction of middle class wealth, including half that of the Black population.
CNN and MSNBC had one overriding concern: whether or not the Democratic Party could harness all this energy into wins in 2018 and 2020, or whether it would simply dissipate like Occupy and the Tea Party. Democracy Now made no attempt to force that framework on it, but included no alternate analysis either.
The speakers who came to the podium all appeared to assume that the half million or more people present were all members of the Democratic Party and no one was more excited about this than filmmaker Michael Moore. He urged everyone to start calling their Congressional reps every single day, to make it a part of their morning routine, as soon as they’d made the coffee. He urged them to run for local office, city council, school board or, at the very least, Democratic Party precinct delegate.
However, something happened as Michael Moore was putting the finishing touches on his exhortation to push the old Democratic leadership aside – despite all the good things they’ve done – and take over the Party. When he started a sentence with, “And when we take over the DNC. . . ,” Ashley Judd suddenly burst on the stage, rudely interrupting him, and starting her overwrought “I am a nasty woman” performance. Before she was done, she had saluted a list of heroic “nasty women,” including not only Hillary Clinton but also Condolezza Rice.
Michael Moore did not say “Excuse me, Ashley, but I haven’t finished explaining how we’re going to take over the DNC.” Instead he tried to save face by shouting, “Oh my God, here’s Ashley Judd!”
Here are a few more choice moments created by a few of the other speakers:
America Ferrera: “It’s been a heart-rending time to be both a woman and an immigrant in this country. Our dignity, our character, our rights have all been under attack, and a platform of hate and division assumed power yesterday. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America. And we are here to stay.”
What’s wrong with that? America Ferrera is the daughter of Honduran immigrants. She endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primaries and general elections, first in 2008, then in 2012. The overthrow of populist Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya engineered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not change her mind. Neither did the ensuing flood of Hondurans desperately trying to cross our borders to safety, most of all children.
Gloria Steinem: “I’ve been thinking about the uses of a long life. And one of them is that you remember when things were worse. We remember the death of the future with Martin Luther King, with Jack Kennedy, with Bobby Kennedy, with Malcolm X. Without those deaths, for instance, Nixon would not have been elected and there would not have been many of the wars that we have had.”
Huh? These assassinations of the 1960s brought on the wars that destroyed Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and very nearly Syria? The ongoing 15-year Afghanistan War?
Madonna: “It seems as though we had all slipped into a false sense of comfort that justice would prevail and that good would win in the end. Well, good did not win this election but good will win in the end. So what today means is that we are far from the end. Today marks the beginning, the beginning of our story. The revolution starts here. The fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal.”
A “false sense of comfort” that “good” [Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party] would prevail in this election and the certainty that, despite this setback, they will prevail in the end?
Van Jones: “When Barack Obama went flying away in that helicopter, I felt like something beautiful was dying. And I felt that something that we had all worked for and that we had all given our hopes and our dreams to was dying. And yet, with every breakdown, a breakthrough is possible, and today, because of you, something beautiful is being reborn in America. Something beautiful is being born right here and right now.”
The Democratic Party has obviously eaten Van Jones’s brain.
Those notably absent from the stage included:
Chris Hedges, author of many books and fierce critic of the Democratic/Republican Party duopoly
David Swanson, Executive Director of World Beyond War and author of “War Is a Lie”
Ellen Brown, author and founder of the Public Banking Institute
Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report Editor and critic of capitalism, US wars, and the “Black Misleadership Class”
Glenn Greenwald, journalist who, with Edward Snowden, revealed that the NSA has left us nowhere to hide
Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate, who called for immediately halving the military budget and instituting a “Green New Deal” to create sustainable infrastructure and employ all Americans
Michael Klare, scholar, author, and critic of the U.S. war in Syria and the NATO buildup on Russia’s borders
Naomi Klein, author and critic of disaster capitalism and climate destruction
Ralph Nader, public interest lawyer, author, activist and three time Green or independent candidate for president
In many ways, the DC march resembled the Democratic National Convention, which CounterPunch Editor Jeffery St. Clair called “a neutron bomb of identity politics.” Aside from a few nods to climate change, it was all about protection and equal opportunity for women and racial and religious minorities, but that didn’t include protection from predatory financial institutions, from all intrusive spying, or from being sacrificed to foreign wars for resources and global hegemony.
Nor did it include any concern for the protection of women, families, and nations targeted by U.S. wars, drone assassinations, and covert destabilization. I don’t know how the Women’s March organizers and Soros or donors so carefully confined protest, but it was very confined, at least in the broadcast spectacle projected from the stage in Washington D.C.
I’m sure there were more radical off stage expressions in local marches and in D.C., but that’s what I saw on TV. I hope Chris Hedges is right that it might contain the seeds of a more radical challenge.