Political action we believe in – On the importance of Women’s Marches

Frankfurt am Main, 23.2.2017

While Donald Trump’s presidency continues to wreak damage across and beyond the United States day by day, resistance is, after the initial shock, also taking shape. Women have been one of the 45th president’s primary target, subjected to derogatory comments lacking any respect. It should not take us by surprise, thus, that the feminist movement replied so powerfully uniting hundred thousands of women right after inauguration day for the copious Women’s Marches in cities all across the US.

What is it, however, in particular that makes these demonstrations so powerful? Why do they matter so much and what is their impact? Every child knows that the right to assemble is pivotal for any democracy, but the question is still less trivial than it seems: why do the marches matter so much for us right now? Judith Butler argues that it is the sheer presence of the bodies that unveils their political power (Butler 2015). I, however, wage that the political significance of the Women’s Marches is – pace Butler – not performatively created by the mere presence of women in the streets and in the public sphere alone. The demonstrations and events don’t carry their political meaning by their mere existence or performance. More importantly, the demonstrations are political acts because they are transforming the political sphere: National and worldwide, through journalism and (social) media. Everybody who witnesses the marches and protests, who is affected by them and judges them as political acts also contributes to recreating the political sphere. This political sphere ceases to be marked by the liberal distinction between the public and the private. Rather, it is constituted by those who act, and those who are only indirectly involved into the event, that is by witnessing and being affected by its implications. Both parties, the active and the passive one, are political (Mohrmann 2015).

What the Women’s Marches do and why they are quintessentially political, is this: They might not bring change about today or tomorrow – although we dearly hope that they will eventually. Remember the way we felt right after the election? Well, by their slogans and appearance, Women’s Marches have mesmerized the – figuratively – bystanding crowd turning apathetic and powerless individuals into a collective of affected judges and spectators. The affective impact on us of the Women’s Marches and their crucial demands for reproductive rights, freedom of choice, equal pay, zero tolerance towards sexual violence, and solidarity with other minorities, is what makes them so important and political right now and today – albeit the achievement of the long term goals seems to be a bit of a stretch for the time being.

 

References:

Butler, Judith: Notes towards a Performative Theory of Assembly, Cambridge/Mass.: Harvard University Press 2015.

Mohrmann, Judith: Affekt und Revolution, Politisches Handeln nach Arendt und Kant. Berlin/New York, Campus Verlag 2015.

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Political action we believe in – On the importance of Women’s Marches