Activism Fatigue at the 2019 Women's March

Ronni H. & Sophia K.
Photos from the 2019 Women's March. Click the arrow to see more.
By Ronni H. & Sophia K.
February 26, 2019

Throughout the decades, American citizens have pushed for change through the vigorous exercise of our Constitution’s First Amendment – freedom of speech – by taking to the streets and demanding change simply through our voices. There is no better modern example of this empowering activism than the Women’s Marches that have taken place worldwide over the past three years. Jam-packing streets from Washington DC to Des Moines, Iowa, to Los Angeles, California, Women’s March protesters have voiced their hopes and fears, often employing signs that address everything from gender pay inequality to immigration reform. And yet, the downtown Los Angeles streets at the 2019 Women’s March were eerily empty, the chants forced, and the walk from Pershing Square to City Hall longer and more grueling than ever before. Those marching for change are burnt out.  A sense of hopelessness has resulted in decreased political participation – activism fatigue – both in our national culture and Westridge community.

 

If you listened closely from the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, you could hear the distant echoes of chants from the Women’s March in 2017, the cries for change from the March for our Lives walkout of 2018, and the challenging voices from people every place in between. After three years, these cries have been diminished, beaten back by repeated governmental inaction despite public outcry.

 

The year preceding the 2019 Women’s March was rife with female empowerment. In the 2018 Midterm Election, 106 Women were elected to serve in Congress. Furthermore, the historic #MeToo and #TimesUp movements – which encouraged all women to share their stories of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse – changed our national culture forever, as systematically-protected men in power were exposed and punished, finally giving assault victims their due support and validation. However, when Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed to the bench, many women viewed this as evidence of long standing sexism. This view coupled with the fact that women still only comprise 23.7% of House of Representatives and Senate members signals to many women that in 2019 men continue to hold the reigns of power.

 

On the Westridge campus, Kavanaugh’s hearing and ultimate confirmation was viewed by many as a test, a test that America failed. Ultimately though, on the growing list of missed opportunities for progress, for many women, this was just another disappointment, particularly in light of gun reform stagnation. Despite the March For Our Lives walkout on March 14, 2018, there were over 300 mass shootings in the US in 2018.

 

In view of the perceived or otherwise lack of progress (2017 Women’s March, 2018 Women’s March, March For Our Lives, etc.), it is understandable why fewer people participated in the 2019 Women’s March (even excluding effects due to charges of anti-Semitism against the Women’s March organization). At the Los Angeles 2019 Women’s March, the change was visible. In the past, protesters hoisted themselves onto walls and embankments for a breath of fresh air. This year, everything was visible from ground level. Lively chants fizzled out early as the waves of people marching struggled to hear and replicate the words of those in front. The lack of media coverage further diminished the march’s effects.

 

The national decline in protesters is reflected in the Westridge community’s participation. According to a Spyglass survey of the Westridge students, faculty, and staff, there has been a steep decline in Women’s March protesters since 2017: 54.35% reported they attended the 2017 Women’s March. 34.78% reported they attended the 2018 Women’s March, and 13.77% reported they attended the 2019 Women’s March.

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(Left) Spyglass collected statistics found that out of 139 anonymous responders, 54.35% attended the 2017 Women’s March, (Middle) 34.78% attended the 2018 Women’s March, and (right) 13.77% attended the 2019 Women’s March.

“I definitely have noticed that I’ve gone to a lot less protests this year than I did last year," commented Jamie G., ’20. “It feels like there are so many issues and causes I want to fight for, but it’s impossible to keep up with them all.”

 

The historic January 21, 2017 Women’s March that took place in cities around the US (and the world) – the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration into office –  inspired hope and set a precedent for the unity and empowerment still possible in our divided nation. It was a surprising feat of optimism during a moment where many believed our country was destined for a dismal future.

 

Even as the year proceeded with scandals, investigations, shootings, and sexual harassment and assault cases, the power of the people prevailed. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements only gaining momentum, the 2018 Women’s March was another powerful display of activism, with the rhetoric of these movements as the focus for many participants, rather than just the anti-Trump signs and cheers that dominated the previous year. Much of the march still employed slogans, chants, and signs similar to 2017. There, however, was one significant difference between the two years: there was a considerably smaller number of marchers in 2018.

Elisa D.

“If there had been significant changes after the first two marches, then maybe people would have felt more of an obligation to come to [the 2019 Women’s March], but because there wasn’t, it might feel like there is not a reason to go,” stated Hanne, I., ’19. “Even I’m not as mad about Trump. I just feel defeated,” she added later. “But I think looking at the people who are running for presidency in the next term proves that we haven’t given up,” she declared.

 

Another 2019 Women’s March attendee, Kate C., ’19, also expressed feelings of frustration but remains invested in and invigorated by potential progress. “While I think many of us feel very defeated, we are all trying our best to continue fighting for what we believe in,” Kate affirmed.