The presidency of Donald Trump has just begun, and already the Resistance has made history. The women’s marches on January 21 were almost certainly the largest act of political protest ever to occur in the United States. Their size, defiant tone, and the fact that they occurred on Trump’s first full day in office put the new president and Republicans on notice: They are in for a fight. Democrats, meanwhile, were signaled that failing to stand against the extreme right’s agenda could carry its own political costs, including challenges in the 2018 primary elections.
And protest fever appeared to spread following the crackdown on immigrants directed by Steve Bannon, hero of white nationalists, who has emerged as Trump’s most powerful aide. A week after the women’s marches, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated and swarmed airports in New York, Washington, Boston, Los Angeles, and other cities chanting “Let them in!” after Trump signed an executive order barring refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. Chaos ensued as people targeted by the ban were prevented from boarding flights to the United States, and those who made it into the country were detained by Customs and Border Protection officers. Federal judges rushed to temporarily halt the deportations, but some border agents ignored the judges and kept trying to deport people anyway, even after four members of Congress confronted them face to face at Virginia’s Dulles Airport. “We have a constitutional crisis today,” Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) wrote on Twitter.
Standing up to the bully in chief takes courage, but numbers help, and the numbers protesting Trump’s first 10 days were massive. The Women’s March on Washington ranks as one of the largest protests ever held in the nation’s capital. Over half a million people marched on the White House, according to official estimates, and eyewitness observations by this reporter and others suggest that the true number was closer to 1 million. Add to this the huge turnouts at marches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Bay Area, and 600 other cities and towns. Combined, the number of people who took to the streets was anywhere from 3.3 million to 5.2 million, according to political scientists Jeremy Pressman of the University of Connecticut and Erica Chenoweth of the University of Denver, who compiled data from media coverage, official reports, and organizers’ claims. Even their low-end estimate of 3.3 million makes the January 21 demonstrations the largest mass protests in the 240-year history of the United States of America.
What this outpouring of anti-Trump sentiment portends for the battles ahead—and how to turn it into ongoing political power—are essential questions to analyze and debate. But first things first: If the opposition indeed manifested the biggest political protest in the nation’s history, this achievement must be stated clearly, recognized widely, and claimed as a victory by the forces that made it happen. Such a public declaration is imperative not only because putting more people in the streets than ever before is by definition a historic achievement. It’s also because this achievement illuminates the new balance of power and possibilities on today’s political battlefield.