“Families Belong Together” March and Rally

I went to the “Families Belong Together” protest rally and march in San Luis Obispo today. I’ve been to a few of these things now. It’s pretty much the same drill. A few people speak to the crowd, then we walk in a circuit through the downtown. Some people hold signs, some people chant things. It doesn’t do much for me, but other people who participate seem to get something out of it.

a crowd listens to speakers at the Families Belong Together rally in San Luis Obispo

“Our Greatness is Measured by Our Goodness” read one of the signs held by attendees of the Families Belong Together rally in San Luis Obispo, here shown listening to speakers before beginning their march through downtown.

I wondered what people thought they were doing. The speakers gave the attendees opinions they approved of about current events and well-known newsmakers, but only rarely (and mostly vaguely) gave them suggestions for actions to take… and more often than not these actions amounted to urgently waiting for another opportunity to vote.

The local “Women’s March” listed this rally among others in its list of what it called “direct action” events, none of which, as far as I could tell, included any actual direct action.

David Gross: “What’s the ‘direct action’ part? All I see is sign-waving / politician-phoning stuff.” Women’s March San Luis Obispo: “…in this situation we are using ‘direct action’ to differentiate between physically showing up and online-only participation.” David Gross: “I tried that. I used ‘diet beverage’ to differentiate between Slurpees and Ventti Frappucinos but I still couldn’t lose weight.”

That said, there is another “direct action” planned at the ICE facility nearby in Santa Maria this evening, where some actual direct action would do some good, so maybe there’ll be more meat on the bones there.

I was at the rally, wearing my “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” / “War Tax Resisters Aren’t Buying It” sandwich board. It felt a little bit off, specifying war tax resistance at a rally that wasn’t protesting war. But I actually had more conversations from interested people, and handed out many more “tax resistance counselor” business cards than is usual at rallies of this sort.

A rally attendee reads my “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” sandwich board at an earlier rally.

My sandwich board and the rest of me have aged a bit since the rally where this picture was taken a decade or so ago.

My sign was directed at the people who were reading it: other protesters. Most of the other signs seemed to be either expressions of desires and values (“Humans are not bargaining chips!”) maybe as attempts to model those desires and values for other protesters, strange attempts to make demands of power when power’s not even in the same zip code (“Trump & Pence step down!”), and degrading depictions of or descriptions of Donald Trump (“Super callous fragile racist sexist Nazi POTUS”).

The only other examples of signs urging fellow-protesters to action that I saw were variations on “Vote!” alas. There was also a voter-registration table set up at the rally starting point; the only table, and the only real “and here’s an action you can take right now” opportunity on hand.

I say this with some disappointment, but also as a confession. There was nothing stopping me from setting up a table somewhere, or leading a charge, or what have you, but I only offered a little more than a sign and my presence myself.

And I should note that this was a hastily-organized rally and that it probably took a lot of work from a few dedicated people just to make it happen in the first place.

But I wonder if it was worth it. We walked in a circuit down one street, up another, then back to the courthouse, and that was that. We waved signs, chanted if that was our thing, had some cars honk at us, got one “getta job!” from a guy on a loud motorcycle, and… people by and large seemed to feel they had accomplished something. It was hard to tell what.

Maybe it counts for something just to stand up and say “we don’t agree” when the government persecutes some group. Maybe people in our town who worry that ICE may come for them next saw our march and felt heartened, believing they might find sanctuary with their neighbors if they were targeted.

Another thing: I really don’t get this trend of putting “Women’s” in front of all the protest actions these days. Women’s Marches, #WomenDisobey, and so forth. The only speakers at the rally today were women, and the organizer said this was because only women had volunteered to speak, what could she do about it? But of course men are being overtly told that the actions aren’t for them, or that they’re supposed to be at most a sort of quiet, passively-supportive auxiliary. It disappoints me that this is what feminism has wrought, a sort of parody version of what anti-feminists taunted them about wanting: an inversion of the old sexist order instead of liberation from it.

But that aside, it divides the opposition and disempowers half of its membership, which is a pathetic own-goal. It’s not like men can decide to throw their energy into creating a “Men’s March” with all-male speakers and a #MenDisobey hashtag. Or is that the future: Are activists to now compete in their own sex-segregated events like athletes? Or are men supposed to shuffle off to the other side of the argument where troglodytes like them belong, and instead of everyone talking about the red/blue divide we can make it a Mars/Venus thing?

In short, if this is the sort of “direct action” those opposed to Trumpery can muster, I expect we’ll have a lot more #MAGA to look forward to.