The protests are working


February 7, 2017

There’s a developing narrative across the country: The protests are working. On many issues of concern to the human needs community, ranging from health care to immigration to efforts to fighting discrimination, a hostile executive branch finds itself backtracking and on the defensive.
Perhaps the first journalist to take note of this narrative on a national scale was Vox’s Matt Yglesias. On Monday, he filed a story headlined, “The big lesson of Trump’s first two weeks: resistance works.”

Yglesias wrote:

“It’s easy to miss amid Donald Trump’s frenetic pace of activity and nonstop media coverage, but the most important story in American politics right now isn’t about what Trump is doing: It’s that the opposition is working.

“The millions of people who marched in Washington and other cities around the world on inauguration weekend and then demonstrated again at airports the following weekend are making a concrete difference in the world. So are the tens of thousands who’ve called Congress or showed up in person at their events.”

Yglesias goes on to note a number of successes that have been achieved – some against formidable odds – during the early weeks of the new administration. Among those of interest to the human needs community: Walking back a plan to cancel all advertising regarding enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the final, crucial days of the sign-up period. Exempting 500,000 green-card holders from the administration’s immigration plan, and allowing Iraqis who helped the U.S. military to come here – in some cases, a life-saving move. Exempting the troubled VA from the federal government’s hiring freeze.

He adds:

“The result is lives have been saved, many more lives have been demonstrably improved, and the proven template for success has been created. Not only have the resisters already markedly altered the trajectory of public policy, they have also begun to make a difference in each other’s lives and their own conceptions of themselves. And this is the greatest threat to the Trump movement.”

Let’s be honest. Trouble is still brewing. Some actions (such as cabinet nominations!) only require 50 votes in the Senate (plus the Vice President). And, as Yglesias notes, we are going to lose some key fights simply because of who leads government right now.

And yet: The recent successes we’ve seen could portend well for two overarching issues on our radar screen: the future of health care in the United States and the fate of the DREAMers (young people brought to the U.S. as children). Already, we’ve seen, and media outlets have taken note of, the many protests at congressional town halls throughout the country, from Florida to California to Colorado to Iowa to Illinois. These protests, too, are working: Look at how the rush to repeal the ACA has slowed. Members of Congress understand “repeal now and figure out replacement later” is a nonstarter, but they’re still stuck trying to come up with an acceptable replacement. President Trump in his pre-Superbowl interview suggested that the health care “fix” might wait until next year. Look at the administration’s retreat on immigration and the issue of visas. The furor over the immigrant/refugee missteps may well work to protect the Dreamers from loss of legal status.

Many of the local protests have been compared with the Tea Party demonstrations that mostly erupted in August 2009, when some Americans were protesting the proposed Affordable Care Act. But there are two major differences. First, the current round of protests appears larger and better organized than the Tea Party affairs of 2009. Second, in 2009, protestors came from both sides of the aisle – indeed, although the media often missed this narrative, in many places, such as at this event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, pro-reform activists outnumbered Tea Party demonstrators. By contrast, pro-Trump protestors at recent town halls are few and far between.

But there is something else a bit different about the recent protests. Again, Yglesias nails it with his subhead, “Protest is the new brunch:”

“Political action can be habit-forming. Once you’ve already made a sign and taken it to a protest, it’s easier to just bring it along in the future. Once you know which of your friends might be interested in going with you, it’s easier to reconnect and do it again.”

In the long run, when it comes to the ACA and immigration and so many other pressing human needs issues that are in front of us, can progressives maintain momentum? Can the protests succeed?

Yglesias answers:

“We know they can succeed, because they are already succeeding.”

Affordable Care Act
health care
Health Care Reform