After mass turnout, can protests turn into political impact?
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Deb Szeman is a self-described "homebody." She had never participated in a demonstration before. But she hopped on an overnight bus from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the women's march on Washington. It was held Jan. 21.
She returned on another bus that pulled in at 4 a.m. Jan. 22. The bus was full of people. They were buzzing about what might come next. And they quipped that they would see each other at the next march.
"I wouldn't have spent 18 hours in Washington and taken the bus for seven hours both ways if I didn't believe there was going to be a part two. And three and four and five," said Szeman, 25. She works at a nonprofit and joined the National Organization for Women after Trump won the White House.
"I feel like there's been an awakening," she said.
More than a million people turned out Jan. 21 to nationwide demonstrations opposing President Donald Trump's agenda. It was a strong showing that raised liberals' hopes. The election's results denied them control of all branches of federal government. Now, the question is whether that energy can be sustained and turned into political impact.
From marches against the Iraq War in 2003 to Occupy Wall Street, several big demonstrations have not directly translated into real-world results. In Wisconsin, for example, tens of thousands stormed the state Capitol in 2011. They were protesting Gov. Scott Walker's moves to weaken unions. Walker has since been re-elected.
Trump also won the state in November. Republicans increased their hold on the statehouse. The result was part of the GOP's domination of state-level elections in recent years.
Organizers of the Jan. 21 marches are promising 10 additional actions to take place during the first 100 days of Trump's presidency. So far, the first and only one is for supporters to write to their senators or representatives.
Groups scrambled to arrange the massive demonstrations. They had limited time to determine how to channel the energy into additional action. But, they promised, it's coming.
"The left has really woken up and said, 'My gosh, we've been fighting the symbolic fight. But we haven't been fighting the institutional fight,'" said Yong Jung-Cho of the activist group All of Us. The group organized protests at the inauguration. It also organized the women's march.
There's still value in symbolism. The immense crowds Jan. 21 ruffled the new president as his press secretary falsely contended that Trump had broken a record on inauguration attendance. Jamie Henn of the climate action group 350.org said that reaction is a hint on how to build the movement.
"Size matters to this guy," Henn said of the president. "It's like dealing with a schoolyard bully. And some of us need to go back to middle school and revisit what that's like" as they think up new tactics.
Saudi Garcia is a 24-year-old anthropology student. She attends New York University. She is a veteran of Black Lives Matter protests. These were held in New York. She rode to Washington with longtime, largely minority activists. They wanted to block checkpoints to the inauguration.
She was heartened to find herself in a very different crowd Jan. 21. She described it as largely white women. Many brought young children to the women's march. Garcia hopes those women stay involved in fighting Trump.
"We need to be like the tea party was in 2009," Garcia said. "Those people were relentless - showing up at town council meetings, everywhere."
Stan A. Veuger represents the American Enterprise Institute. It is a conservative think tank. He co-authored a study of how the nationwide demonstrations that launched the tea party movement led to increased conservative political clout.
Higher attendance at individual demonstrations correlated with more conservative voting by congressional members and a greater share of Republican votes in the 2010 election. That is when the GOP won back the House, he said.
But, Veuger cautioned, it wasn't automatic. The tea party activists also went home and volunteered in local organizations. Those actions helped change the electoral results.
"Political protests can have an effect," he said. "But there's nothing guaranteed."
One positive sign for the left, he added, was that the women's marches seemed to draw an older crowd not deeply rooted in demonstrating. These people who are more likely to volunteer, donate and vote, he said.
Beth Andre is one of them. Before the election, the 29-year-old who works in crisis services at a college had bought a ticket from her home in Austin, Texas, to Washington. She had planned to watch what she thought would be Hillary Clinton's inauguration.
After Trump won, she canceled the trip. She was heartbroken again when she realized that meant she could not attend the women's march. But a friend invited her to a meeting. It was to plan a women's march in Austin instead.
Andre has never been involved in a protest movement before. Now she's planning to attend lobbying workshops by her local Democratic Party. She even is thinking of running for office.
"We want to be able to harness that energy and anger that we have right now and turn it into something good," she said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did people travel to Washington instead of attending marches in their own towns?
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