I hold many strong opinions. Some of them are unconventional, some are highly nuanced and easily misunderstood, and others are completely mainstream and predictable. Yet one thing I aspire to is the idea of “strong opinions loosely held.” If I think things should be a certain way, or when I evaluate the merit of an idea, I stand by my judgement. I’ll defend that position with my full mental arsenal. Unless you can make a truly compelling, non-dogmatic case for an alternate position, I’m not moving. However, if you make that contrary case effectively, and you are able to prove your point honestly, then I’ll happily defect. When it comes to ideas my standards are high, but loyalties are fluid.

I don’t put much stock in protests. Not in small protests, anyway. They seem to do more for the people who participate than they do to actually change hearts, minds or policy. This is mostly because of scale. If 20-30 people show up with signs outside a building to picket and protest, it’s never felt like something that made much of a difference. Scale that up, and things change. Mass protests have overthrown governments, such as in the Arab Spring. Riots have shifted the social consciousness on subject of race, poverty and corruption while simultaneously creating apologists for the very people and policies those riots were responding to. Big events of public outcry obviously have an impact. That’s not most protests though.

In my mind, many of the post-election protests seemed like such a waste of time and energy. Some even famously included people who didn’t bother to vote. Aside from letting people howl at the moon in frustration, the whole thing seemed so useless. This is why I’ve been advocating for people to take more constructive action, such as pestering their state and federal representatives. I still think that’s our best route forward, but I’ve changed my mind about protesting.

Friday saw the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. I opted out of the spectacle, as did so many others. There were pocket protests in DC and in other parts of the country, but that felt very typical. Yet there was something far more wonderful to come on Saturday that I did not see coming: a worldwide mass protest of women (and men) who took to the streets to declare that women’s rights are human rights and that while Donald Trump might be President now, the public wasn’t going to just sit back and quietly accept whatever he and a Republican Congress feel like doing for the next 2-4 years.

I knew there was a women’s march happening in DC, as I had friends who were going, but I was not aware of its size. In my imagination it was going to be a couple thousand people, a footnote in the day’s news, and would mostly help that group of people feel better. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that was my expectation.

I had no idea that this was a coordinated event not just in DC, but across the country and around the world in dozens of major cities. When I saw the reports on Sunday of how hundreds of thousands of women had descended on Washington — a group so large it appears to have completely dwarfed the inauguration turnout from the day before — I was delighted in my surprise. Scrolling deeper into my Twitter feed and the NYT articles, more and more amazing images of protest came into view. This was a big deal.

Best of all, it wasn’t just Washington. There were massive marches in blue state and red state cities across the country and even in cities around the world.

Now I could get all pedantic about whether or not these marches were going to change the nature of policy introduced by the POTUS and Congress in the coming years, but that’s not the point. The protests changed me, and that was something I did not expect. Specifically, they gave me a great deal of hope. For the first time since the election it felt like sensible people actually are the majority in this country.

The reality of America’s sensible majority may have rattled the POTUS also. This past week he’s been doubling down on the false claim that he actually won the popular vote, not just the Electoral College. His own legal team insists this isn’t the case, and that there is no “voter fraud” but this is the lie the POTUS keeps telling. He’s even calling for federal investigations. It’s an interesting stance considering how his winning the election isn’t really in dispute at this point. Instead he appears to be trying to claim a popular mandate by sheer force of PR will, rather than actual public support. Sure, he has supporters. Lots of them. He did not, however, win the popular vote. He just didn’t. He’s still the President, though, so it’s strange that he keeps chasing this. It appears that ego will continue to be Donald Trump’s driving force. Did the scale of opposition rattle him? Does his minority popularity chafe that ego?

Back to the Womens March, though. I’m grateful that it happened, even though I underestimated it and did not participate. I wish I had. Next time I think I will. It’s immensely comforting to know that I am not alone in wanting an open, progressive future for America. Liberal democracy is not dead, it just got sucker punched.

Nathaniel Salzman

Photo credit: Flickr