Why I’m marching – but not today


Sunday morning sermons: My farmer dad used to listen to the radio version of Sunday morning talk shows and then give the politicians a piece of his mind. We affectionately called his responses “Sunday morning sermons.” This blog post follows his example,  reflecting on what I will do to resist this presidency, this fascist tendency in America, this awfulness without end. Every minute brings a new plea on social media: go here, protest there, call this Senator, email that legislator. I cannot do it all. No one can. So I try to find a balance: protests, writing, emails, reading and thinking, talking to people. If you are struggling with the same decisions, read on.

Edited at 1:10 p.m. to add links and one more event.

Protests, marches, demonstrations:

Should I show up at protests every day? Every week? Every new Executive Order? More specifically, there are two demonstrations or meetings today (Sunday, January 29) about the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-refugee executive order, and another on Tuesday.

  • Should I go to the one at the airport today at 1 p.m., which has no articulated agenda except “show up and oppose?” The anti-immigrant action is no longer actually happening in airports. Anyone in transit when the order was issued has arrived and been processed in, if the federal judges’ orders are respected, or sent back. No other people from the seven target countries will even be allowed to board a plane for the United States, so there will be no new arrivals. Shouldn’t the focus of the action shift to the federal buildings?
  • Should I go to the Ilhan Omar event at Brian Coyle Center at 3 p.m., guaranteed to be packed with people, with a stated purpose of planning responses? I would be one more person listening, but I would not have anything to say. I will hear the reports later.
  • Should I go to the protest on Tuesday at the Minneapolis Federal Building? This makes sense to me, because the federal government is the actual problem. The Federal Buildings seem like good places to protest, since the White House is too far away.
  • And add one more: Defending Immigrant and Muslim Rights at El Colegio today at 4.

All of which is to illustrate my own decision process – not to say that there is anything wrong with going to one or the other or all three.

Then there’s the question of what marches and demonstrations accomplish. Some people tell me they don’t accomplish anything. “Whose mind do you change?” they ask. “Do you really think that marching is going to change what the government does?”

For me, those questions to miss the point. When my government, my country is doing something awful, I need to stand up and say no. Yeah – thinking Nazi Germany here. And the civil rights movement. And the anti-war movement. Silence is not an option.

So here’s a short list of what I believe protest accomplishes:

  • Protesting via marches and demonstrations and such is a way of exercising and strengthening my moral muscle, just as I go to the gym to build up my physical strength. I get to stand up for my beliefs, actually standing, putting my body out there. I get to say that I stand for something – out loud, very loud.
  • I see other people around me, also committed to fighting for justice, to building a better world — little girls holding up signs, a man in a wheelchair, sisters with their Black Lives Matter signs smiling at me with my Black Lives Matter button, the very old, the very young, the teens and in-betweens, the couples, the singles, the colors of the non-Benneton rainbow, the nurses and social workers and teachers and Teamsters. I am not alone. I am part of something bigger than myself. We are strong together.
  • We send a message to the people in power. They know that we who come out to march are people who vote, caucus, talk to our neighbors and families and friends. They see our numbers, and one more body adds to the count.
  • We send a message to our friends, family, neighbors, city, state, nation: this is important. Think about the way we turned away Anne Frank and the Jews on the St. Louis and then they were killed. Think about what happens to refugees right now, today, and what our government is doing to them in our name.
  • We send a message to the rest of the world – the man in the White House does not speak for us. We do not agree and we will not be silenced and we will resist. We are America.

Writing and speaking and teaching

Writing is something I can do better than most people, so that’s a talent I try to use in resistance and in advocacy for justice. I do a lot of research and analysis. I fact-check what I see on social media, and I fact-check what I see in executive orders and political bullshit. Then I explain what’s true and what’s a lie and what’s spin and propaganda.

I write on this blog and some people read what I write and find it valuable. Some people – I’m not a power blogger and my audience is small. I still write, because I believe even one voice of reason is important – just like adding one more body to the march or demonstration is important. A few organizations re-publish my blog posts, sometimes with permission and sometimes without. That spreads my words to a little larger audience.

Sometimes I get invited to speak or teach. I have a brief spot on KFAI every Wednesday morning, shortly after 7 a.m. That’s early and the audience is small, but I still get surprised by hearing from people who say they heard me on KFAI and liked what I said.

The experts say that a blog should be focused on one or two areas, never more, and should work to build a big audience by demonstrating expertise in those areas. That’s good advice, but I don’t follow it. I write about race, immigration, economic justice, education, sustainable agriculture, protecting water, and the media. I know a lot about all of these issues. (I’ve had a lot of years to learn.) And I care passionately about them, so I ignore the experts.

Phone calls, emails, letters to the powerful

I resolved this year to contact politicians much more often. I’d like to write letters: thoughtful letters, based on the research that I do and my careful analysis of the issues. Guess what – according to every single expert, that’s the least effective thing I could possibly do.

Phone calls. l hate making phone calls, but phone calls seem to be the best way to get the attention of our political representatives. That’s confirmed by the ex-Congressional staffers who wrote the indispensable Indivisible guide to action in the Trump years. And by this NYT article:

“Activists of all political stripes recommend calling legislators, not just emailing — and certainly not just venting on social media. Several lawmakers, along with those who work for them, said in interviews that Ms. Waite is right: A phone call from a constituent can, indeed, hold more weight than an email, and far outweighs a Facebook post or a tweet.”

Bottom line – use Facebook posts and tweets to communicate with your friends, but pick up the phone to influence your representatives. The NYT article quoted former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth:

“[A] large volume of calls on an issue could bring an office to a halt, sometimes spurring the legislator to put out a statement on his or her position, Ms. Ellsworth said. She recommended the tactic in a series of tweets shared thousands of times.

“’It brings a legislative issue right to the top of the mind of a member,’ she said. ‘It makes it impossible to ignore for the whole staff. You don’t get a whole lot else done.’”

Okay – message received. I’m calling. And I’m following the guidelines – each call is about a specific issue, short, and asking for a concrete action: vote for or against an appointment or a bill, make a public statement, etc. That means not much interaction with the person on the other end of the phone who, especially this month, is just tracking the numbers, because of the overwhelming volume of calls from all of us activists.

Great resources for effective work with/on elected officials:

Reading and thinking

This post is getting way too long, so I’ll keep this part short: you/I/we need to refuel. We need to take in good information and chew on it and think about it. We need to reflect on who we are and what we are doing/can do in the world.

Some places I read regularly:

Talking to people

We talk to each other, to the people we agree with, to our allies – to help each other hang in there, survive, gather strength, resist. But that’s not enough. As I wrote in another long blog post, we need to continue to talk to people we disagree with:

“Direct dialogue with those with whom we disagree, like nonviolent direct action, can arouse individual consciences and change hearts and minds. Neither direct action nor dialogue offers a quick and easy fix. Sometimes dialogue leads first to bitterness or anger.  Sometimes hearts and minds change after three or six or seventy encounters – and if your conversation was the second or fifth or sixty-ninth encounter, you may never see the change. …

“Like protests and organizing and voting, those difficult, respectful, personal conversations are a continuing witness that we must make in order to move toward a different, more just future.”




Filed under organizing

4 responses to “Why I’m marching – but not today

  1. Tom O'Connell

    Thanks, Mary this is very helpful. I too wonder which and how many demonstrations to go to, how often to sign petitions and write those letters. I appreciate your suggestion to use the phone! I also appreciate your commitment to sort out the truth through reading a broadly and talking with folks in out side of the choir. We are in a long struggle, for me its important to do what each of us can, take support in each other and at least try to think critically about what actions and strategies will be most effective over time.


  2. Jenny Keyser

    Mary, thanks for helping me stay sane. I’ll be at the rally tomorrow. See you there!


  3. Pingback: How to read the news without getting sick | News Day

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