by Samuel Dale
I’m not really one for marching or protests but last Saturday I made an exception and joined the Women’s march in Washington DC.
I have always thought street protests were basically pointless and potentially even counter-productive by hardening views on both sides.
I also felt slightly embarrassed about it. As though marching was a slightly vulgar activity as opposed to writing raging polemics or voting.
I attended my first ever proper protest on 9 November in Manhattan after Trump’s election but felt like it was pointless. I left after five minutes.
Protesting a newly elected president seems particularly futile and possibly even makes me a sore loser.
I’m also concerned about the growth of divisive identity politics and think the Women’s March should have been the more inclusive People’s March.
Women’s issues were a key part but really it was a carnival of anti-Trump issues from climate change to trade polices.
And the protest was also full of the usual collection of fruitcakes from extreme socialist parties to extreme identity politics and overly aggressive signs, costumes and chants. There were thousands of people I would rather not be associated with, although that is the nature of a wide coalition.
In some ways it was hundreds of thousands of angry “snowflakes” who were “virtue signalling” our views in the parlance of today’s sneering right.
Incidentally, it is those right-wingers most offended by so-called left-wing virtue signalling that are so fanatical about blue passports and poppies, the epitome of virtue signalling. And those right-wingers most eager to throw around the term “snowflake” about easily offended lefties are the most easily offended by any protest, for example. It is fascinating projection from commentators like Piers Morgan or James Delingpole.
Others asked why march against Trump when there were other causes such as women’s rights in Saudi Arabia? This is artful deflection but is an argument for more protest not less.
So if there are so many negatives then why did I even attend?
Well, Washington DC is a good night out and they serve fine cocktails and Ethiopian food. So there’s that.
But if I’m honest, I went because I’m angry. Angry at the result and sickened that an openly racist campaign could persuade so many Americans to support it. Trump’s Muslim ban was – without question – the most repulsive policy I have heard from a mainstream western politician. It still resonates and makes me angry today.
I was also angry that such a vile and vicious liar could succeed.
Angry at the failure of the American left to unify and mobilise itself during the election.
Angry that I didn’t do more to help the Clinton campaign by posting leaflets or making calls.
Angry at the terrible policy on the table from harsh immigration policies to ignoring climate change; protectionism and isolationism.
Angry that we didn’t really see it coming even after the complacent shock of Brexit.
The truth is that I marched because I was angry.
And I’m a bloodless Blairite constantly preaching about compromise and pragmatic politics.
It’s a strange feeling to feel so utterly repulsed and helpless that the only sensible option seemed to be to join a mass protest.
It made me feel a flicker – just a flicker – of sympathy for the hard left. I guess if your ideas feel sidelined then it will make you angry and you’ll swipe your chance when it comes along. One reason why so many cling to an obviously hapless Corbyn.
Did the protest, or does any protest, make a difference?
Maybe. The protest surely energised participants to become more politically active, which has to be good.
Everyone on the march from the far left to lapsed Republicans know that elections matter. They matter a lot. Apathy is not an option.
It surely inspired many children to see hundreds of thousands packing the Washington Mall in peaceful unity.
It also dominated news coverage and practically demonstrated the widespread opposition to Trump’s agenda. They may pay attention or not but they now know there are millions of ordinary Americans and immigrants opposing their plans.
Ultimately the protest acted almost as a safety valve to allow the millions who oppose the rancid Trump to express displeasure. That is our right.
Clearly a one day protest is not going to alter the course of Trump’s presidency on its own, however nice the visuals.
Yet it felt like a release of energy and anger that has to be accompanied by more action.
Anger can be powerful if properly channeled into organised action.
Electoral politics is the only real answer. Relevant, practical policies with persuasive arguments and organised campaigns. Hopefully more will get involved in politics after witnessing the liberal setbacks of 2016.
If a few thousand are inspired to get involved then maybe protests aren’t so futile after all.
And if you can’t protest against a racist liar as US president then you never will.
Call me a virtue signalling snowflake. Sign me up. I’m glad I marched.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist