Kalamazoo, MI
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Politics

March on Washington: Drawing the Line between Empowerment and Oppression

Posters lie at Federal Triangle Metro Station across from Trump International Hotel after D.C. protest [Ayla Hull / The Index]. Posters lie at Federal Triangle Metro Station across from Trump International Hotel after D.C. protest [Ayla Hull / The Index].

The Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017 has been donned the largest protest in American history–a movement that aims to ensure rights for women of all backgrounds, especially in response to the recent election of Donald J. Trump. But for all of our political scientists out there, we must ask ourselves: how does this event measures through our historically stratified political system? In other words, how does the Women’s March on Washington compare to the pluralistic ideals of our not-so Founding Fathers?

To answer this question, we must first understand pluralism: the idea that all people in a state receive equal opportunities and resources to vie for power and policies. In other words, government acts as a playing field for groups to gain recognition and representation. In a pluralist system, policy is dictated by winning groups, as part of a larger winner-loser system that is constantly in rotation. Political entities wishing to change their standing may utilize various methods of political engagement, including but not limited to: voting, running for office, grassroots organizing, and protesting. Lastly, groups should be inclusive of all individuals.

So did this march truly act in a pluralistic manner in which groups were able to compete for their divergent interests? While on the surface, the Women’s March may have utilized these techniques to pursue pluralistic ideals, such a vision can never reach its full potential in the United States due to our longstanding history of stratification and inequality.

This ideology can be closer identified through the example of the Women’s March. Although multiple groups competed for their recognition and representation, some groups were clearly prioritized over others. Many have critiqued the march as under-representative of groups including but not limited to transgender women, non-binary folks, people with disabilities, and racial minorities. We understand the history of stratification and generations of structural inequality to play a fundamental role in the unequal representation and prioritization of groups at the march.

So… we’re not pluralistic. But did the march meaningfully contribute to the national discourse and ongoing political disputes? Many would say yes. For days afterward, photos of the worldwide event circulated domestic and international social media and news outlets. There is no doubt that the Women’s March caught the attention of the world. Within certain pockets—including K—discussions arose surrounding distribution of resources and representation at Women’s Marches around the world. But in many discussions, the under-represented groups that received unequal representation at the march seemed to once again be cast aside. It is our duty—as members of the Kalamazoo community—to bring those forms of oppression to the forefront of this movement. It is imperative to view ourselves through a critical lens if we are to progress toward inclusion of all disenfranchised groups.

This movement will go down history. But pluralists shouldn’t think their work is done just yet. Empowerment generated by the march for certain groups should not be confused with the reparations of structural inequality in our political system. Although this movement created strides for some, it came at the expense of other disenfranchised groups, proving that fundamental barriers to a truly pluralistic society remain.  Until we reconstruct our system as a whole, the longstanding history of political stratification in the United States will endure.

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March on Washington: Drawing the Line between Empowerment and Oppression