Women’s March likely to be a beginning, not end

A wide range of people participated in the Women’s March on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State)

Lee Ann Banaszak | Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science


Popular history says Woodrow Wilson in 1913 asked “Where are all the people?” when he arrived in Washington D.C. the day before his first inauguration. He was told they were all across town watching the women’s march.

In 2017, Donald Trump preferred to refute that there was anything going on. But pictures from the EarthCam, bus permits and Washington Metro ridership information all show that the Women’s March in D.C. was one of the largest ever. Protests in Chicago, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles and California, as well as internationally, indicated that this day may be the single largest coordinated protest in American history.

Lee Ann Banaszak

What can we learn from the Women’s March? First, the march began not from existing organizations but from the spread of discontent through electronic media. That so much discontent was mobilized outside of political parties and across such a wide array of specific interests clearly suggests that there is a powerful but yet untapped political power.

That these same people were not visible in the election suggests that the Democratic party requires change to mobilize its base. The marchers were a wide coalition of working class women, LGBT activists, supporters of reproductive rights, first generation citizens, immigrants, advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement and many more. This is a broad-based coalition more like a political party than a single interest group, but unlike the Tea Party movement, its focus is not on the existing political parties.

One day of protest — while a strong indicator of discontent — is not the long-term organizational force needed to make a difference in electoral politics. But research I’ve done with others shows that public opinion generally can be changed by public protest, and that even those who simply live in countries where there are frequent protests are mobilized to participate.

A wide range of people participated in the Women’s March on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State)

Other researchers have shown that a protest like this is not the end of a chain of action — it is often the beginning. Attendees see that they are not alone and meet and continue to organize. Indeed, protest participants move on to become lifelong activists often returning to organize in local communities for years after the event that initially mobilized them.

Finally, even those who don’t attend such highly visible protests realize that action is possible and are mobilized to act.

All of this suggests that these will not be the last events we see in the course of the Trump administration. Activists leaving the Women’s March could be heard committing to renewed activism, and the Women’s March website has already been updated to suggest additional actions through a campaign of “10 Actions for the first 100 Days.” The website urges marchers to contact their elected officials on important issues and to build community groups of marchers and their supporters that can mobilize for change by working to influence government from the ground up.

These are the building blocks of moving expressions of discontent into political power. While it is too early to predict the exact outcomes of the Women’s March, there are already signs that these activists are engaging in additional forms of mobilization.

What we cannot yet know is whether that activism will manifest as community and state level mobilization or through the national parties. In any case, the Women’s March is more likely to be a beginning than an end.

Lee Ann Banaszak is a professor and head of the Department of Political Science in the Penn State College of Liberal Arts.

Experts available to media for presidential inauguration analysis

Screenshot of the Presidential Inauguration Committee website (58pic2017.org).

As Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, Penn State experts will be watching along with the rest of the nation, and they’ll be available to give their analysis to media.

Penn State experts are available to comment on the inauguration are listed by topical expertise:

— Robert Speel, associate professor of political science, can speak generally about politics, elections, the inauguration and political transition. His research interests include elections and voting behavior, state and urban politics, Congress and the Presidency, and public policy. Contact: rws15@psu.edu


— Nichola Gutgold, professor of communication arts and sciences, is an expert on women in politics. She is in Washington, D.C. observing inauguration activities with a group of students. She can speak about past female political candidates and barriers women face today. She is the author of “Madam President: Five Women Who Paved the Way” and the forthcoming expanded edition of the book: “Paving The Way for Madam President.” Contact: ngutgold@psu.edu

Lee Ann Banaszak, Penn State professor and political science department head, is an expert on women in politics and political protests. She will be in Washington, D.C. at the Women’s March on Washington. She recently conducted a survey study of protesters at the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions. Contact: lab14@psu.edu


Shannon Monnat, assistant professor of rural sociology, demography and sociology, can speak to the demographic information of presidential election voters. Her recent analysis of data from the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Donald Trump found significantly more support in areas with high drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates during the 2016 Presidential election. Contact: smm67@psu.edu


Mark Major is a senior lecturer in the department and the author of “The Unilateral Presidency and the News Media: The Politics of Framing Executive Power.” He specializes in the American presidency and political communication. He recently wrote an article for The Conversation about President Obama’s use of unilateral powers compared to other presidents. Contact: mgm26@psu.edu


Matthew Jordan, associate professor of media studies, teaches media studies, cultural studies, film studies and critical theory. He can speak to the media coverage of the presidential election, the ongoing coverage of government and politics and the proliferation of “fake news.” Contact: mfj3@psu.edu


— Dennis Jett, professor of international affairs, can speak to the topics of securing America and international relations. He is a former American ambassador who joined the Penn State School of International Affairs after a career in the U.S. Foreign Service that spanned 28 years and three continents. His research focuses on American foreign policy, ambassadorial appointments, the impact of domestic politics on foreign policy and peacekeeping. Contact: dcj10@psu.edu


For more information or direct phone numbers for the experts, please contact News and Media Relations at 814-865-7517 or hrobbins@psu.edu.

Preliminary research: Race inequality, candidate choice top issues for RNC protesters


Activist Kathy Wray Coleman, of Cleveland, who was handcuffed by police during a protest at the Republican National Convention on Monday, is transported to an ambulance after she complained of chest pains. Coleman is a leader of the Imperial Women's Coalition. (Photo by Antonella Crescimbeni/Penn State College of Communications)

Activist Kathy Wray Coleman, of Cleveland, who was handcuffed by police during a protest at the Republican National Convention on Monday, is transported to an ambulance after she complained of chest pains. Coleman is a leader of the Imperial Women’s Coalition. (Photo by Antonella Crescimbeni/Penn State College of Communications)

Preliminary findings from political science Professor Lee Ann Banaszak and Penn State students who are polling protesters at the Republican National Convention show that racism and racial equality and Trump as the Republican Party nominee are the top reasons people are taking to the streets in Cleveland.

On Monday — the group’s first day at the convention — the researchers surveyed three events: “End Poverty Now March,” “Stop Trump March” and “America First Movement Rally.”

RNC Preliminary Protester Issues

Very preliminary results showed that “people outside the convention were slightly less diverse than the American population, with fewer Latinos/Latinas and African-Americans than we find in the general population,” Banaszak said. “Nonetheless, racism and racial inequality was the most often mentioned issue among the people sampled outside the convention.”

Lee Ann Banaszak

Lee Ann Banaszak

Additionally, Banaszak said that fewer people turned out for the events on the first day of the convention than originally expected. The event sizes ranged from about 200 to 500 or 600 people and original estimates of predicted turnout had been between 5,000 and 15,000 people, she said.

Members of the research group spoke with 111 individuals on Monday, and 70 percent agreed to be interviewed for the research project. Their work will continue through the end of the RNC convention and into the Democratic National Convention on July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

Banaszak said that the researchers’ survey method is different from past polling methods in that it helps take the personal bias out of the polling. Additionally, some preliminary data will continue to be available quickly because the researchers are submitting their findings through iPhones to a cloud-based database.

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