As I rushed through Grand Central’s main hall yesterday to catch a 5:50 train out of the city, I stumbled right into a protest. It was a modest gathering. Predominantly white members of the Trump opposition group Rise and Resist raised signs labeled “Abolish I.C.E.” and “Close the Camps,” amongst other slogans.
But, among the small crowd, I was struck by the sight of a child brandishing a poster that read “No Kids in Cages.”
According to the ACLU, there are at least 2,654 such children who have been separated from their families at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s policies. Around 416 of these were girls under 10; some of the children who are detained are as young as 5.
Immigrant children are also detained by the thousands in Homestead centers. Several presidential candidates visited one such center, before the first debate in Miami, though they were not granted entry.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) runs a network of these facilities, with about 170 operating nationally. And Trump wants to open more– and recently defended “beautifully run” detention centers, contrary to various reports of overcrowding and human rights abuses.
Seeing a child in the protest instantly had an impact on me. And for a venue like Grand Central, where people are hurrying to make their trains home (and, in this case, encouraged to keep walking by the couple of police officers nearby), one moment to make a statement is all the protest group might have. Rise and Resist made it count.
The most influential protest groups have to not only make small moments count but also keep the momentum going even after a protest or a march has concluded.
Here are some organizations that have been the most successful at rallying people to their cause, and sustaining their movement.
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Founded in 2013, in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, the group’s platform exploded following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. By the way, prosecutors ultimately declined to charge Darren Wilson, the officer in question, setting off another wave of protests.
The protests in Ferguson, during which BLM emerged as a symbol of the movement, sparked national conversations on race, the criminal justice system, and police brutality.
Since then, the group has created networks across the country and now has a global reach. Of course, BLM has also prompted people to idiotically proclaim “#AllLivesMatter,” and to claim that those who kneel during the national anthem– inspired by the BLM movement are un-American.
BLM rallies around names– Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray– and protests non-violently (though the protests in Ferguson turned violent, thanks in no small part to the military equipment used by the National Guard).
Founded by three women, BLM’s inclusivity and skilled deployment of social media have changed the world.
2. Women’s Marches
— Kevin Banatte (@afroCHuBBZ) January 21, 2017
The day after Trump’s inauguration, more than four million Americans took to the streets across the country, and over 600 marches took place worldwide. The event, which attracted numerous celebrities and future presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, was the largest single-day protest in American history.
But like much of the mainstream feminist movement, the Women’s March has been overly focused on white women– 53 percent of whom voted for Trump. (For reference, 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary.) And accusations of antisemitism on the part of the organizers threatened to derail this year’s march entirely.
The Baton Rouge chapter of the National Organization for Women, for instance, canceled the 2019 New Orleans march due to the controversy surrounding Women’s March, Inc.
The Women’s March stirs up complex feelings. One author argues, the word “intersectionality” made its first major appearance in mainstream news outlets following the 2017 march.
One Vox article was even titled, “To understand the Women’s March on Washington, you need to understand intersectional feminism.” A black author explains her mixed feelings stirred up by the march– and why she sat out the event entirely.
Ultimately, to keep up the movement’s massive energy, the Women’s March has to embrace the multi-faceted identities of its members.
3. March For Our Lives
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Organized by the high-school survivors of the Parkland mass shooting, with the help of gun-control advocacy group Everytown, the massive event took place in D.C. on March 2018.
Marches took place simultaneously across the country, with Mayor Bill de Blasio reporting over 150,000 marchers in New York. But their choice of the main venue was intentional, symbolizing their fight for stricter gun legislation in the capital. The goals of the march were also explicitly listed on a petition on the event’s website.
The cause also attracted a wide roster of celebrities– even Selena Gomez, who infamously proclaimed she didn’t “take sides” when asked on Twitter if she supported the BLM movement.
Like with BLM, March for Our Lives also sparked counter-protests, with a “gun rights” rally in Boston drawing hundreds of supporters.
Still, the overall massive success of the event demonstrates the power that anyone– even high-school students totally inexperienced in events organizing– has to effect change.