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Why We March (and You Should Too)

When we march, we collectively offer solidarity to the oppressed and a message to the oppressors and their allies that we all bear witness to their crimes and are no longer passive bystanders. When we march, we act—with purpose and deliberation.

Image Credits: Markus Spiske

Over the past few weeks, Pride marches to honour past LGTBQIA+ activists and celebrate queer communities in all their joyous, riotous glory took place around the world. And around the same time, people rallied together in support of a free Palestine. From LA to Sydney, Baghdad to Beirut, Tokyo to Glasgow, people marched together in solidarity with queer folx and for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank who are being murdered by Israeli forces, illegally dispossessed of their homes, and subjected to daily apartheid and abuses. As seen in many placards in these rallies, you don’t have to be queer or a Palestinian or a Muslim to support these causes, you just have to be human.

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the struggles for justice endures and many marchers continue to turn up on the streets. The crowds may have been somewhat attenuated but the hope to take back the streets remains, steadfast and resilient. However, despite the global outpouring of support, Israel’s biggest exponent, the US government, had consistently refused to endorse a UN statement calling for a ceasefire and continues to provide its full, unconditional support to Israel and its irredentism. The various marches for Pride and Palestine can be seen as part of a long chain of rallies that have taken place across the world in the past years, for causes ranging from Black Lives Matter to women’s rights to the farmer’s protests in India. A few of these have resulted in material change, many have failed to move the needle for now.

One may well ask then- why do you march? And why should we? Some may argue that marching makes little impact on actual ground realities. How is it not an exercise in futility or worse, narcissistic moral handwashing?

We march because it is the right thing to do. It is morally correct and practically viable, the latter for those who are physically and mentally able to do so. It is rooted in praxis and is one of the many (literally) practical steps that one can and should take. In marching together for a cause, in lockstep with your sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, we form a community that may be spatially fleeting but temporally permanent. It becomes another spoke of the wheel that could well have the power and momentum to crush down the oppressions of all kinds of tyranny.

Knee jerk cynicism and “edgy” nihilism are easy, what is difficult is to constantly recreate the conditions for hope, the space for continued struggles, and the place for possibilities. Simply marching won’t lead to instant freedom but it can help pave the way. When we march, it is not moral grandstanding but showing up for what’s morally right. When we march, we collectively offer solidarity to the oppressed and a message to the oppressors and their allies that we all bear witness to their crimes and are no longer passive bystanders. When we march, we act—with purpose and deliberation. For, like language, marches too are symbolic and have meaning.

Small acts of solidarity matter. The artificially-imposed asymmetrical power dynamics of our societies are extremely hierarchical and intensely gatekept. That means few of us will have acquired enough power to bring about wholesale changes on our own, as individuals. It is by connecting our individual efforts—consistent, persistent, insistent—to a holistic struggle that we accumulate the ability to transform the stubborn status quo. Marches and rallies, grassroots activism, union organising, advocacy in public forums, fearless truth-telling in media, persuasively arguing against the bigotry of our family and friends—these are some of the many ways we contribute towards creating necessary conditions for change. Whether they are sufficient depends on how relentless the resistance is and if there is a good amount of luck, as the quirks of history have shown.

And history has proved that revolutions, be it the storming of the Bastille or the Arab Spring, do not occur in a vacuum. The historic event of a Tunisian street vendor immolating himself may seem like an isolated incident that served as a catalyst for the protests, yet it was merely the culmination of a series of events, big and small, spread over decades of injustices and oppression, as well as acts of defiance and modes of resistance. Similarly, our rallies, our slogans, our cheers echo through the present to build possibilities for the future. You may have heard of quantum entanglement; our solidarities are similarly interdependent and have the potential to collapse multiple probabilities into a singular event.

And while the personal is political, politics can help the personal too. One reason why we come together on the streets is to extend the self into a part of a community, to expand our understanding of our own experiences, and integrate us into struggles that speak to us and yet, are bigger than us. This “coming together” helps form linkages between our sufferings and those of oppressed peoples everywhere. In the Sydney rally for Palestinian freedom, every speaker emphasised the interconnectedness and the shared struggles of the Aboriginal People in Australia and the Palestinians, both victims of settler colonialism. Some expanded it further to include Kashmiris, Uyghurs, and the Rohingyas. Rallies can become the sites for learning and self-discovery, as much as it is a space for love and anger.

The visual impact of a group of people walking in unison for a greater cause sends the clear message to allies, opponents, and bystanders that the injustice is seen, heard, acknowledged but not tolerated; that the struggle continues and the space for that struggle continues to be created and solidified. And for the people in that crowd, the physical sensation of being fused together in solidarity can have the purgative effect that doing a right thing always brings, intertwined with feelings of euphoria, righteous anger, and most importantly, hope. And in a world where faith in the goodness of people is often an aberration, that hope needs to be constantly resuscitated and rekindled if movements are to continue their long march towards justice. With the improvements in popular discourse around mental health, what seems to be lost at times is the recognition that self-care doesn’t preclude community and friendships. And that political action and community building, whatever may be its mode and form, can also be a form of healing.

How we relate to one another is a critical part of what makes us human. Practising our politics, speaking our truths, and reinforcing our values is also a form of therapy. Its healing power resides in the empowerment of others. It contextualises our inner traumas by familiarising us with the struggles outside. It leads us to appreciate our own resilience by witnessing the many resistances being waged. It reveals who we are through our relations with others. It connects our griefs and binds them in a shared cauldron of catharsis. It frees us by emancipating others. In our shared struggles, we recognize each other. Happiness, like freedom, is a communal enterprise. And so, we march.