California Forum

Women’s march was inspirational, but what will you do next?

More than 20,000 people march up Capital Mall to the state Capitol during the Women’s March on Sacramento event on Jan. 21.
More than 20,000 people march up Capital Mall to the state Capitol during the Women’s March on Sacramento event on Jan. 21.

The women’s marches will go down in history as some of biggest demonstrations this country has ever seen. The energy we heard over and over again was contagious, electrifying or stirring.

But now the marches are over and I have a terrible, sinking feeling.

At the very least the marches served as a cathartic experience to so many who are saddened by the 2016 presidential election results. The marches also gave people much needed hope in the future of our country and our ability to effectuate change. And the marches show the sheer volume of discontent with President Donald Trump and support for – for what? Well, there is the problem.

The women’s marches did have a platform, and while it was broad, it lacked clear cohesion or needed specificity. People marched to show support for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights and human rights.

The problem is that it is difficult to turn support for those ideals into specific, concrete action. And specific, concrete action is exactly what is needed.

The difficulty ahead lies in two distinct but related facts. First, where does the energy of the millions of marches go next week, next month and next year?

Let’s be honest. It can be exhilarating to take part in a huge public event. It can be less exhilarating to sit in a room by yourself and call your elected representatives, help draft legislation, speak to members of organizations who support positions that are important to you or even to vote.

It is difficult to make a popular social media post about a phone call. That is inherently less exciting than a photograph of you and three of your friends in a crowd of half a million people.

But the energy of the marches must be maintained and channeled. And this brings us to the second difficulty. Will those who marched be able to unify behind a few specific, achievable goals? And what will those goals be?

Will the first order of business be to work against a repeal of the Affordable Care Act? Or an alternative to the ACA? Or will it be a plan to maintain federal funding for Planned Parenthood? Or perhaps a strategy to block some of Trump’s Cabinet nominees? Or a concerted effort to force a robust vetting of Trump’s judicial nominees?

And will we focus on ensuring that some of the women who marched ultimately become the women who run? One of the most moving posts I saw about the march was by a man who said, “I marched with the first female president of the United States today. I don’t know who she is yet, but I’m sure she was there.”

We lack anything approaching gender diversity in the nation’s capital. Less than one-fifth of our members of Congress are women, and slightly more than one-fifth of our senators are women. One of the next steps we can take in the Trump era is to think about ways to ensure a diversity of viewpoints among our lawmakers, and one way to do that is to ensure that women get a seat at the table.

Sadly, in our current era of “alternative facts,” there is no shortage of important causes to unite behind. The road ahead is long, uphill and jagged. The marches can and should continue, but the purpose behind those protests must be focused, clarified and put into action.

Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and is president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. She tweets at @LevinsonJessica and can be contacted at