Conservative Criticism of the Women’s March Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

January 24, 2017

It began as a Facebook event page created by Teresa Shook, a concerned grandma in Hawaii. It grew into testament to American democracy.

The Women’s March that took place on Saturday showcased the values of a free, vibrant society. Women from all races, beliefs and sexual orientations, their partners, their kids, their friends from all walks of life came together to stand in solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families—a celebration of our vibrant and diverse communities in non-violent defiance.

And a day after their man was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Trump fans found reasons to complain.

Officials estimate that more than 3 million people marched in the U.S. and around the world on Saturday to put the Trump-led, Republican-controlled federal government on notice. In major cities where hundreds of thousands of protesters turned out, crowds were peaceful and zero arrests were made.

Concerned citizens took to the streets in major cities like New York, Washington and Los Angeles, as well as smaller centers far from the coasts, like St. LouisNashvilleAtlanta, and Omaha.

But to many of President Trump’s defenders, the sight of millions of people exercising their First Amendment rights was cause for snarling criticism and alarm. They have spent the days since firing off hot takes from Facebook newsfeeds and corporate media green rooms across the country. Their Monday morning quarterbacking stuck to several themes:

“I’m a conservative woman and these women don’t speak for me!”

“Where were these people on Election Day?”

“Why wasn’t Kellyanne Conway invited to speak?”

“But Madonna said she wanted to blow up the White House!”

“President Trump is only one day into the job and now is the time for us to unify behind him.”

The inability of Americans to hear one another out is a big factor in our current malaise. And looking back, belittling the massive crowds then-candidate Trump drew was stupid. So in the spirit of healthy citizenship, these grievances should be heard. But they shouldn’t go unchallenged.

To begin with, this grassroots march never claimed to speak for all women. In fact, it firmly chose to release a bold progressive policy platform that was centered on protecting the rights of immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, and women of color. Roosevelt Fellow Andrea Flynn critiques the rest of the platform in her post. Anyone who identified with the Women’s March mission and unity principles were welcomed at the march. And for the record, I’m not speaking for women, either. I am weighing in as a white man who showed up Saturday to support non-violent defiance of the new administration and in solidarity with the safety and health of our families.

The march was never billed as an Every Single Women’s March. It never argued that Secretary Clinton was entitled to the support of America’s women voters. It was organized and led by women, specifically women of color, who were concerned that the progress of recent decades toward gender liberation will be reversed under President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Trump the candidate and the Republican platform said that this is what they plan to do.

As it happens, the millions who marched on Saturday approximated the margin by which Secretary Clinton defeated President Trump in the popular vote. On Election Day, 65,844,610 Americans voted for Secretary Clinton. So the idea that Election Day stragglers missed the main event in November but showed up on Saturday is ludicrous on its face.

Kellyanne Conway was not invited to speak because she is a mouthpiece for an administration that millions of Americans consider a threat to their rights and interests. This weekend hundreds of thousands of Americans will march in Washington to protest abortion. It’s doubtful they will invite any pro-choice politicians to speak. This is their prerogative and should be respected.

Madonna’s comments were despicable and ran against the tone of the march. Anyone who attended or observed the marches with a fair mind understands this. Giving weight to her remarks rather than the millions of other people who came together in the spirit of community and a more compassionate future only indulges the celebrity worship for which many have rightly faulted liberals in the past.

And finally, to the point of unifying behind President Trump: This is where a core tenet of our democracy is most relevant. Americans are citizens, not subjects. No elected official is entitled to our political support or our vote. Such trust and backing must be earned. The man who closed his inaugural address with his campaign slogan has a long way to go before he earns the support of those who declined to vote for him.

All this cuts to a much larger problem. For too many conservatives, the office of the presidency only deserves respect when held by a Republican. In this mindset, peaceful protest of a Republican politician or policy is inherently dangerous or illegitimate.

But this worldview itself is dangerous. President Obama’s critics were often vitriolic, ahistorical, and over the top. At times, many were racist. But when they gathered peacefully or challenged elected officials on policy grounds, they were part of the essential democratic tradition of dissent.

The man who lost the popular vote and has appointed numerous extremists to his Cabinet may be the new president. But millions of Americans made it clear this weekend that they do not consider him their leader. It now falls on him and his team to turn that around and earn their trust.

And until then, the protests and dissent will continue indefinitely.