Will Trump-Era Protests Lead To Sustained Activism For The Left?

Large-scale protests outnumber weeks on the calendar since Donald Trump’s inauguration. From the swiftly planned Women’s March, to spontaneous demonstrations at airports protesting Trump’s “travel ban,” it seems every few days there’s a new protest against Donald Trump, his policies, or his cabinet picks.

Social media fueled efforts have members of congress facing swarms of calls and in-person protests. When they go home to their districts, representatives face unhappy and sometimes angry crowds at town hall meetings, people worried they will lose medical coverage if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But is this sustainable? Will this level of interest and engagement in politics and governing continue for Trump’s duration as president? Or are we witnessing a short-lived cathartic exercise for Democrats and liberals still grappling with Trump’s unexpected win? There’s no question losing can be a motivational tool, just look to the conservative Tea Party movement in 2009. But will liberals form their own “Tea Party” in 2017 and beyond?

Protesting feels good in a nation of uncertainty. The sense of camaraderie, of hanging out with like-minded people, can certainly lift spirits. But is this a catalyst for a new political movement? The Tea Party’s success, leading to Republican control of the House and Senate, happened because protest turned into civic action. Various Tea Party groups were formed, where people hung out, became friends, maybe some got married. And these groups informed the collective conservative narrative against President Obama, and against Obamacare, and they reliably turned out conservative voters on election day.

It remains an open question if left-leaning protesters in the era of Trumpism will follow a similar path. A strength for the Left, our diversity, might also be an obstacle. The conservative Tea Party was and is mostly an agitation of white Americans, middle-aged and older, which likely gives them a strategic organizing advantage. But the Left must overcome this obstacle and find a way to build a successful movement of its own. Until then, Republicans will hold the House for the foreseeable future, maybe the Senate as well. If we are going to turn this ship around, we need a new era of liberal civic engagement and activism that persists beyond presidential election cycles.


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