Over the weekend we were witness to thousands of people across the United States going to airports and protesting the detainment and removal of arrivals from the seven countries targeted by the Trump administration. When I looked at the scenes unfold I was moved. But more importantly, the protests may have been the most effective demonstrations I have witnessed in many years.
I am a cynic and a pessimist when it comes to most aspects of popular protest. I think coming to political awareness in the 1990s and 2000s showed me time and time again that people in the street are more often symbolic than effective. Look at protests that occurred at key moments or at important events and time and time again they failed to change anything at all: the globalization protests at the G7/G8/G20 meetings, the anti-Iraq War protests, the Occupy Movement. Despite mass public, international demonstrations no meaningful change was won. Instead of a demonstration of public power I think these demonstrations ultimately allow the mainstream media, those in power and critics to illustrate the opposition/left's weakness and toothlessness.
The principle weakness in these broad, mass demonstrations is that they have no detailed goals and often apply pressure to the wrong people. The airport protests had specific aims, have those detained released and allow them entry into the country. The audience wasn't the White House, who will never reverse their position, but the staff of the border agencies, other levels of government, lawyers and the justice system and most importantly the media. The attention the protests received by the media made the protests and the border changes feel like a crisis. It applied pressure on judges to issue immediate orders and caused reaction in foreign capitals. I sincerely doubt that the Canadian government would have moved so quickly and issue temporary residency permits to travelers stranded by the Muslim Ban.
If Donald Trump and his ilk are going to be defeated it will be through actions like this. He's going to lose in the courts, in the international arena, and (hopefully) in the legislative bodies and other levels of government. Mass demonstrations can only drive media attention, pressure other officials and provide them cover. Trumpist policies must be attacked in specific and with detailed alternatives. In all due respect to the women demonstrations around the world, they sadly did not move the needle, as far as I can tell. The opposition will not defeat Trump the man, they must defeat his ideas, one by one.