Marches Still Matter But Differently in Age of Social Media

The Women’s March in Washington, D.C., Saturday, January 21, 2017 drew an estimated  500,000 marchers and upwards of 3.5 million participants across the U.S., possibly the largest protest in American history not counting cities across the globe.

Pallas Diaz is fired up. Terri Siler is raising money. Emiliana Guereca is encouraging others to get involved.

These three women from Florida, Indiana and California, and many, many others who participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. want to take the energy from last Saturday’s Women’s Marches and channel it into a movement. Interviews with  participants from throughout the USA TODAY Network underscore the challenges that activists face in the aftermath of a march that had little national infrastructure. They say it’s up to participants in critical swing states and districts to take the initiative and set priorities. And they hope they can organize in the geographic areas that matter most as Democrats seek to win back the U.S. House and Senate.

“Right now there’s so much energy and excitement after the women’s march in D.C.,” said Diaz, a founder of Collier Freedom, one of the new groups in southwestern Florida formed in the aftermath of the Nov. 8 election.

"I think everybody needs to stay together otherwise

                                                    Emiliana Guereca, marcher

“I think everybody needs to stay together otherwise your voice gets diluted. Your big roar turns into these little yelps,” says Emiliana Guereca.

That’s exactly what the marchers need to do according to Zeynap Tufekci, an assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina and author of the forthcoming book, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, it’s all about the “need to stay together” if the protest is to remain or attain significance.

Tufekci points to two protests whose numbers seemed enormous but whose after-effects petered out like a July 4th fireworks display–the anti-war protests in 2003, likely the largest global protest in history spanning 600 cities that failed to transform into an electoral force capable of defeating George W. Bush in the 2004 election and the Occupy Wall Street protests which were held in about 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries which failed to ignite political and economic changes in righting the wrongs of economic and social inequality.

The takeaway?  “More than ever before, the significance of a protest depends on what happens afterward,”  says Tufekci.  Size still matters and Twitter can still fill the Square but there needs to be follow-up.

OK, but what needs to happen for that significance to be realized?

According to Tufekci, protesters need to exchange contact information, set up local strategy meetings, identify and support like-minded primary candidates, keep close tabs on legislation, and pressure politicians who deviate from the protesters’ policy goals.

In other words, lots of homework.

The lesson for the Women’s March (and others)?

Marching matters but the work afterward makes the difference.

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