Catherine Barnwell, Contributor
Over the past election year, we’ve heard a lot of noise from our downstairs neighbors. It began with the babble of the debates and the deafening clash and anti-climax of election day; on the now-infamous Friday, January 13th, 2017, it rose to a deafening pitch as President Trump delivered his inaugural address.
However, we are now beginning to hear the counterpoint to this cacophony of high politics. That very Saturday, millions marched on the major capital cities of the world loudly proclaiming a bold message. “Donald Trump has got to go.” “This is what democracy looks like.” “Black lives matter.” “Pussy grabs back.” And of course the one message that wasn’t written on placards, but was made obvious by the sheer numbers of marchers reported throughout America and beyond: popular politics matter.
Such a gathering of voices rising in harmony is one of the oldest tricks in the book of popular politics. The skimmington, familiar to the inhabitants of seventeenth-century England, Ireland, and Wales, wasn’t even always political, but it shed light on deviant behaviors and used public shaming to discourage such behaviors. While the men and women of rural England have banged on pots and pans to denounce unmanly men, hysterical women, and unsightly marriages, the Women’s March stood up against the rigid gender roles and unwarranted claims over female bodies that should rightfully remain confined to the seventeenth century. Four centuries onwards, we have not lost the belief that coming together to chant out in the public forum of our city streets can and will make a difference.
Despite the backlash against monarchy that the United States has experienced in modern times, the discrepancy between high politics and popular politics was made painfully evident during the American Presidential Election of 2016. Trump’s reality TV infamy and billion-dollar fortune did not prevent him from painting himself as an everyman in order to pander to the average American who felt disaffected by the current state of the economy. We need not look further than to the electoral college: a system used by one of the world’s leading democracies, yet one in which the popular vote doesn’t guarantee you the top spot.
Speaking to women who attended the march in New York and Washington, and even glancing at social media feeds, the resounding impression of those protests was one of hope and solidarity. Not only did they exclaim about the unprecedented diversity of the ensemble gathered at the Women’s March, but also that it was the average person, the populace, those affected by inequalities of all stripes, who took to the streets on Saturday. As communication technologies have broken down barriers and broadened our networks, they have enabled rather than precluded popular politics in the twenty-first century. The skimmington is still part of the system of checks and balances that the average citizen can exercise in the realm of popular politics. And if Donald Trump wants us to believe he is our neighbor, then he must be ready to have his eardrums burst by the deafening pitch of our voices.