Dear 100 Hour Board,
What do marches actually accomplish? Obviously, I'm asking this in part because of the terrible events in Virginia, hoping that the Unite the Right march doesn't actually accomplish anything. But I have a general sense that marches and protests are just an easy way for people with shared grievances to feel like they're being politically active, but that it's a kind of political action that makes no difference.
When we march, are we deceiving ourselves by thinking we're influencing anything?
-My Name Here
My dad posed this very question on Facebook a few months ago, and the ensuing discussion resulted in some interesting perspectives. Overall, I do agree that marches are not very effective ways of encouraging political or social change.
Marches do have certain benefits, including raising awareness of specific issues and allowing participants to feel a sense of camaraderie that they are not alone in their desires and goals. Likewise, they often result in significant press coverage, which in turn can raise awareness. But raising awareness is largely pointless unless there is some action planned beyond a march. In the United States, with the decision-making power so largely removed from the common masses, marches are essentially useless unless they have a specific and achievable goal, like to get enough signatures for an initiative or referendum, and most marches hardly seem that well organized nowadays.
Yeah, I'm usually not a huge fan of them, partially because, as Luciana pointed out, they're not good for much unless action is taken afterward. But I guess said action is usually much less visible than a march, so maybe it does happen and I just don't see it.
At the same time, at least it's doing something, and a pretty cool something at that. While thinking of this question I was reminded of scriptures where we're asked to stand as witnesses of God. Perhaps if the cause is just, marching is a good way to witness, too.
With the utmost respect for Luciana and Auto Surf, I disagree that marches don't accomplish anything. I think they can actually be very beneficial. They're a good way of signalling lawmakers about the things that we care about deeply, and most lawmakers have a lot of incentive to follow their constituents' interests, at least if they want to be reelected. So if they see that their constituents care enough about an issue to organize a well-attended march about it, and it's a cause that they're not deeply opposed to, they're more likely to start working on laws and policy changes about that issue than without a march. Lawmakers try to represent their constituents' interests most of the time, but honestly, they're sort of in a bubble due to their position, and it's hard for them to know what people actually care about if the people don't do anything to express their positions. And especially in local government, the lawmakers tend to be pretty responsive to their constituents, so in those cases, I think marches can do a lot, even if individual citizens don't do much to follow up on them.
I think marches can also do something to change culture, and in a lot of cases, changing the culture does more than changing laws, at least on a practical level. For example, even after the Fifteenth Amendment technically gave African Americans the right to vote, the culture in the South was such that more laws were passed to prevent them from voting, and the culture of seeing non-whites as inferior continued for almost a century (and arguably more, but I won't get into that right now). The amendment itself didn't change that much in most African Americans' lives, at least not until there was a shift in the culture. Marches definitely help signify what values are important to what groups, garner support for those values, gain a national audience for a cause, and show people that they're not alone in wanting change, and that in turn helps change the culture. Sometimes that's in a bad way, like with the recent rise of white nationalism, which I definitely think has been helped by its prominence in the national eye. But the good news is, if a change like that is possible, in part because of marches and rallies, positive changes are possible, as well. (Like with the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Think what would have become of it if they hadn't done any marches.)
So that's just my two cents, but I really do think that marches can accomplish a lot. It probably won't be a fast change, but over time they can make a big difference.