Women’s Marches: What Happens Now?

A week or so after the second act of the women’s marches in cities and communities large and small across the country, questions remain: Do they matter, and where does the moment go from here?

The total number of participants in the rallies held on Jan. 20 from Maine to Alaska is guesswork, but two academic researchers estimated that, at minimum, 1.6 million or up to 2.5 million people took part. This is about half the estimated turnout for the inaugural marches in 2017, but still. On the South Fork, a march held in Sag Harbor on Jan. 20 drew a crowd in excess of 500, so large that many of those at the edges of the assembly near the foot of Long Wharf could scarcely make out what Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming and other speakers were saying.

Such widespread demonstrations of support for a political cause, albeit one that it is hard to define, deserved more attention than it got in many national media outlets. Amid the Russia election investigation and President Trump’s sedate trip to the Davos billionaire’s conference in Switzerland, the press noted the number of marches and quickly moved on. Such is the nature of the warp-speed news cycles these days. But, thinking all the way back a week and a half, as well as recalling the many protests large and small against the Trump administration’s policies and the president’s unfortunate Twitter habit, it seems a sustained movement is underway.

That so many have waved signs and taken public action for more than a year is noteworthy. Their enthusiasm seems to have taken hold and helped galvanize Democrats. This is likely to be the marches’ most important effect.

Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s First Congressional District is not alone in coming under near-constant needling, online and at public appearances and his Long Island office. His seat will be contested in the November election, and while there appears to be little interest among Republicans in forcing a primary, there already are six declared candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Often in American elections, the outcome is decided not by how people vote but by how many bother to take time from their day to go to the polls or fill out absentee ballots — by who is motivated enough to put down the remote and get up off the sofa, so to speak. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the motivation meter is tilting toward the Democratic Party, which is, to a large degree, because people have taken to the streets and are likely to stay there.

Tuesday’s State of the Union speech probably did little to change the political map for 2018. The old fear-mongering about immigrants was there, if tempered from last year’s “American carnage.” Mr. Trump was notably silent on the #MeToo movement — and sexual harassment in general. This is hardly surprising, considering that he is said to have carried on an extramarital affair while his current wife was pregnant with their child, and it was his own recorded “grab ’em by the pussy” remark that led to the now-iconic hats of the same name and arguably to a force that could change the course of history. 

November is really only a few short months away. There is no reason to doubt Americans will stay engaged until Election Day and beyond.