“Just give him a chance” has been a common refrain leading up to today’s Women’s March on Washington. As I write this, in hundreds of cities and towns across America, the largest protest in American history is taking place. In Washington D.C. alone half a million Americans are getting ready to take to the streets to challenge the policies of the incoming president. As this massive display of free and peaceful speech takes place across our beautiful nation, many are voicing their disapproval of these protesters and calling for them to “Wait and see” and to “Give the President a chance”, comments that are themselves a display of free and peaceful speech.
It is important to remember however that the freedom of speech and assembly are precisely the freedom to not be silenced, even when the ideas presented may support views that you or I find distasteful. Today’s stunningly large national protest is both a fight to preserve that right as well as a reminder to all of us all that we have it at our disposal. Voice your disapproval of these protesters, loudly if you wish, but know that your constitutional right to do so is being championed and protected by those same protesters. And when the pendulum ultimately swings the other way and your disapproval of those policies mount, the avenue to speak truth to power will lay itself out before you.
In a democracy, it is the responsibility of those who see their leaders embark on what they fear to be the wrong path or the wrong side of history to voice their concerns early and often. Indeed it is this constitutionally enshrined pillar of our public life that has kept our democracy thriving through good times and bad, war and peace, prosperity and crisis. To “Wait” in the face of errant means, or to “chance” the policies of an unchecked power is to fundamentally revoke the single most important aspect of democracy: our voice. No president that has ever held that high office has done so without protest. Sometimes meek, sometime mild, and sometimes like today: history making. All protests, left, right and center have moved our country forward. They have checked power, curtailed belligerence, and mitigated injustices.
The gatherings we are witnessing today will attempt to be dismissed by some as nothing more than entitled Millennials whining about losing. But I urge you to look closely. Those crowds of hundreds of thousands and of tens of hundreds all across America are filled with both women and men. Young and old. White collar and blue collar. White, and black, and yellow, and brown, and every single shade in between. There are Republicans marching and Democrats marching. Libertarians and anarcho-socialists. Political hacks and the politically agnostic. Every color, creed, religion, orientation, and social class is present today in coming together to say, “We have our eye on you”. In a nation as divided as ours what could possibly bring so many disparate voices together and bind so many of them in patriotic unison?
Obviously, the first and clearest reason is to protect the rights of women. The path towards gender equality has made massive strides, yet an enormous amount of work remains to be done. Pay inequality and workplace gender discrimination are still very real. Compounding this reality is a president who has shown absolute impunity towards respecting the women around him. His outright bragging of serial sexual assault is merely the tip of the iceberg. As a matter of public policy he has been equally dismissive of women’s rights.
Regardless of your personal opinions about women’s rights and feminism, the policies the marchers are fighting for today have the power to positively impact your quality of life, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Policies like parental leave, quality access to reproductive services, early childhood care, and low cost health screenings have been shown to make societies healthier, wealthier, and more productive.
Even better, for pro-lifers, these polices are some of the most powerful tools available at reducing abortions. So powerful even, they have been proven over and over again to reduce abortion rates better and faster than simply banning abortion access. For those who care deeply about fighting to protect the unborn and quality of their lives, the women marching today are challenging the President to do just that.
Moreover, those marching today are calling upon the president to preserve health care for all Americans. The Affordable Care Act is a contentious piece of legislation, and fixes are desperately needed, but Trump’s plans, so far as he has laid them out, will not only deprive nearly 20 million people of healthcare, directly lead to tens of thousands of deaths per year as well as the shuttering of rural hospitals, but also will likely destroy Medicare in the process. Even if Medicare does survive the ACA takedown, Trump’s appointments have left little doubt he will be pursuing Paul Ryan’s Medicare phase-out plan, which will place senior citizens at the mercy of private insurance companies.
On top of this bad news, congressional republicans have already introduced legislation to effectively cut social security benefits for the foreseeable future. While Trump campaigned on protecting Medicare and Social Security, the only thing standing between a republican controlled House and Senate and these ideas becoming law is Trump’s pen. Given his infamous inability to maintain the same policy position for more than a few days it seems reasonably prescient to be worried.
While healthcare and poverty are universal issues that touch all of us, ultimately the failure to ensure high quality low cost healthcare and social security protection to Americans affects women the most. Furthermore, programs like social security and Medicare are responsible for keeping 22 million Americans out of poverty, a significant portion of which are women. Those marching today are not only fighting to protect themselves from very real and existential harms, but also to protect you from those harms as well. The marches today are under the banner of Women’s Rights as they stand to lose the most under the current administration. However, their fight is also for your benefit, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, rich or poor, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Christian.
Many in America see Trump as a threat. His demagoguery and bombast have inspired a pervasive sense of fear, dread, and horror, while his appointments have demonstrated complete disregard for the foundations that have built this country into the great nation it is. Whether he is the threat many of us perceive him to be or the agent of needed change others hope him to be, only the arch of history will be able to settle the score. What we do know without a shadow of a doubt is that silence is the fastest route to political tragedy. If you are Trump supporter I want you to know that while I personally and deeply dislike the man, I am rooting for him, because for better or worse he is now the personal embodiment of the nation, and I will never root against my own nation. His office commands respect, but also demands scrutiny and accountability. In President Trump’s inaugural speech he proclaimed, “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” The protesters today are doing just that, and we owe them our ears.