In case you missed the wall-to-wall media coverage, our nation’s capital was recently flooded with participants for the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. According to their website, this action was to “send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.”
The godfather of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, would have watched the Women’s March on Washington in a state of perpetual facepalming, but not for sexist reasons or ideological differences.
The Women’s March on Washington was a direct violation of his teachings. And here’s why:
Alinsky would have hated the radical appearance of the marchers and the offensive speeches given from the stage. The actions taken by protestors produced publicity towards the march itself, but it fell short of conveying a sympathizing message that would engage potential supporters.
Alinsky’s best known book, “Rules for Radicals,” is a staple of organizing, for both the liberals and conservatives. In it, Alinsky explained how to draw people into your movement.
“Tactics must begin with the experience of the middle class, accepting their aversion to rudeness, vulgarity, and conflict,” he advised. “Start them easy, don’t scare them off.”
He understood that a person can’t be both hot and cold on an issue. You cannot drive people away and expect them to support you at the same time.
“True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism,” he wrote. “They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.”
By contrast, many of the marchers wore pink stocking caps that were pointed at the corners like cat ears. This was by design from the Pussyhat Project. Their goal was to create a sea of pink on their website, writing, “We love the clever wordplay of ‘pussyhat’ and ‘pussycat,’ but yes, ‘pussy’ is also a derogatory term for female genitalia. We chose this loaded term for our project because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment.”
Empowerment? Sure, that’s fine. But is it smart? How many people asked, “What’s with the caps?” and found the use of the term as offensive or silly? How many people dismissed the entire march as ridiculous when they might have otherwise sympathized with the stated goal? Probably more than a few.
Additonally, many marchers carried protest signs that a majority of Americans would find repugnant, rude, crass or even ridiculous.
The presenters at the rally made speeches that also pushed people away instead of bringing them into their main points. Ashley Judd’s “nasty girl” speech was broadcast and replayed throughout that week. However, the media focued on her obscene and offensive references instead of her overarching concerns regarding President Trump. Madonna’s speech was largely forgotten, except for when she said she’d thought about blowing up the White House. The majority of other speakers were overshadowed by these two, further limiting the reach of the message.
Regardless of what you think of the goal of the march, it takes some epic levels of denial to say the radical displays, offensive usage of body parts, and over the top speeches kept the march from having a major impact on influencing our government.
“[The organizer] will view with strategic sensitivity the nature of middle-class behavior with its hang-ups over rudeness or aggressive, insulting, profane actions,” Alinsky wrote. “All this and more must be grasped and used to radicalize parts of the middle class.”
If the goal is to bring more people into your movement, the Women’s March is a teachable moment in alientating a target audience. Effective activism requires knowing how to communicate a message that people are open to receiving; this is the first step to changing hearts and minds.