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Kunin: The New Activism

Many thought the historic Women’s March - which brought millions of women (and some men) out of the house and into the streets would be a one-time event. After a few weeks, it would surely fizzle. Skeptics thought that the eye-catching collection of handmade signs would end up in the back of the garage and gather dust. And the people who waved the signs, who came from all parts of the country, and even the world in astounding numbers would quietly go back to their cubbies in the workplace, or behind the kitchen counters at home.

They were wrong. A new activism was born the day of the Women’s March. Instead of dying down and blowing out, it has surged like a forest fire and gathered strength.

Take the nation’s teachers, for example. Instead accepting low wages and no money for new books, year after year, thousands of teachers have decided to march, in state after state, including Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Arizona and others. They’ve persisted and in some states achieved results in pay raises and newer books.

In Parkland Florida, high school students took to the podium and demanded action on gun legislation - not just the usual words that gloss over tragedy. These young people surprised us with their ability to turn grief into action, as they walked out of school to memorialize their friends. And they started an astounding new national conversation, and refused to take no for an answer - going head to head with the National Rifle Association.

The #MeToo movement has swept across the country, telling women they don’t have to bear sexual assault or harassment in silence. The standard of male acceptable behavior has suddenly changed as powerful men have been fired for their past misbehavior.

So far, no obvious national leaders have emerged from this activism - which continues to be a rebellion in the best tradition of local democracy. And while it’s still too early to celebrate, I’m especially encouraged by the focus on women’ s rights, teachers’ pay, gun laws, and respect for women – all of which bodes well for a resurgent grass roots democracy.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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