DMR: 7 Traits of Highly Successful Protests and why #WomensMarch will Fail


Dear Mr Republican’s Prediction: The women’s rights protests will not succeed, at least not in the way that many of the protesters conceive of success.


This isn’t a malicious statement; rather, it’s an objective one that I believe is grounded in cold, hard reality. In my view, protests need to have several qualities in order to be successful:

(1) They need to be large.

(2) They need to be sustained over a long period of time.

(3) They need broad buy-in across geographic AND demographic groups.

(4) They need to coalesce around a clear leader–or small group of leaders–who can speak for their masses, especially with policymakers.

(5) They need to revolve around a problem whose nature is clear.

(6) They need to advocate for very clear policy solutions. This means literally laying out precisely which legal steps should be taken in order to remedy the problem(s), not just holding signs saying that this, that, or the other thing “is bad.”

(7) They need to ensure that their method of protest doesn’t push away some of the very groups that they need to win over. The leader mentioned in number 4 needs to be able to set the tone and style of protest for nearly everyone.

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Unfortunately for these protesters, their nascent movement meets the first criterion but none of the rest of the criteria. (This has been the case for, as best as I can recall, ALL modern protest “movements.”) Let’s take them one at a time.

[1] This is the one criterion that the protests met: they were very large by almost any measure.

[2] So far, these protests just are not a long-term going concern. Perhaps that will change; some of the organizers are pushing to keep this movement from losing momentum. We shall see. Time will tell.

[3] Though the protests seemed to have broad geographic appeal (though more nearly-exclusively urban than some successful past movements), they didn’t appear to have broad demographic appeal. From what I can tell, the composition of the protests was overwhelmingly female, disproportionately white, and almost exclusively more than just a little liberal. The support they have among those who didn’t actually protest also seems to be largely female, white, and liberal. (Compare this to the civil rights movement, which, though frequently largely black on the actual streets, nevertheless drew substantial support across large swaths of the white community–as an example.) Furthermore, despite the largely female nature of the protests, I’ve actually been surprised at how divided females actually are: I cannot count the number I’ve seen, heard, and read criticizing the marches.

[4] There simply are no leaders of this movement. There are a lot of “speakers” and mouthpieces, but, much to the surprise of some of our “leaders,” leadership involves more than a love for microphones. When I think of leaders who can corral a protest movement, I think of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

[5] The murkiness of the issues at the heart of this protest is probably among the gravest of the obstacles. Honestly, I’m having a very hard time ascertaining any truly “women’s” issues that unite all of the protesters. It appears that if you ask 12 of them why they’re protesting, you’ll get 13 different answers, many of which don’t appear to be unique to women. As far as I can tell, there are only two themes that unite the vast majority of the protesters: anti-Trump and pro-abortion. This is dangerous for a protest movement because one can logically ask whether this is a women’s rights protest or an anti-Trump protest, a women’s rights protest or a pro-abortion protest. Donald Trump isn’t going anywhere for the time being and, in any event, has offended far more people than just women. He also doesn’t seem to care about protests. Abortion is certainly partially a women’s health issue, yes, but the later the pregnancy becomes, the more people–including many women–see it as not ONLY a women’s health issue. For most Americans, it grows into an issue that is more than simply women’s health. Many people, especially in later stages of pregnancy, see opposition to abortion not as taking away a woman’s right but as providing a right to a baby. Scientifically, this position cannot be refuted. So on both themes, the practical relevance seems to me to be dubious.

[6] As far as I can tell, the protesters have offered no policy solutions at all. They’ve let us know what they like and what they don’t like. They’ve let us know their perceptions. What should be done about it though? This is what protesters must clearly answer, and it hasn’t happened.

[7] Protests leaders must be able to set the tone more effectively than they have to date. Peaceful, civil protests are one thing. Blocking interstates during rush hour, however, probably pushes more people away from your cause (especially those then stuck in even worse traffic) than it draws. Damaging a person’s property wins the sympathy of but a few. Protesting against men per se is a sure way to cause most men to lose interest. Exposing the parts of her body that the protester claims to be trying to protect seems more suited to late night talk show fodder. Overtly offensive and/or vulgar signs have precisely the opposite of the “unity” impact that is so badly needed. Vilifying as sexist those who simply do not share one’s perspective–even if the disagreement is grounded in objective facts–leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths. I could go on and on, but I’ve made my point. To be sure, I am NOT accusing all, or even most, of the protesters of doing these things. Only a small number did. Even so, those are the small number that dominate headlines, which is precisely why the protests’ leadership must be able to set the tone of the movement.


Yes, I am aware that enormous movements that don’t meet all of these criteria have brought about change, but it’s usually not the change that many of the protesters wanted. The “Arab Spring” is an excellent example of this. Those protests were huge, but that’s all that they were. As a result, they ended up with change, though not the change many had envisioned. Saudis simply were given a bit more welfare. Bahrainis came under far more repression by security services. Egypt is now ruled by a de facto military dictatorship, while Libya now has no government at all. Syria descended into a civil war that rages still today and whose fighting has killed or displaced millions of people. This, if anything, is what happens when a movement involves only large numbers and nothing more.

For now, we need to focus on unity. What it all boils down to is that we need to worry about one demographic above all others: Americans. The constant focus on one demographic group or another–especially during times of heightened tension, discontent, and uncertainty–serves only to drive more wedges. Right now, we need to focus on our country. That’s the number one priority, and that’s one category that includes us all. Speak in terms of what you feel is good or bad for the United States.

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