Last Friday, over sixty Congress members boycotted President Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony. All of them were Democrats, and most of them publicly announced that they would not be attending because of their opposition to the president’s rhetoric. Meanwhile, people in organizations like the Girl Scouts and the Rockettes argued that they should not have to be there for a president who has no qualms about calling women horrible names and talking about grabbing or lusting for their bodies. The Congress people held similar views.
Others, like maybe the 45 percent of white women with college degrees who voted for Donald Trump, maintained that “Trump-as-misogynist” was just a media ploy to distract from the fact that he has hired women to leadership positions in his businesses and is looking to do so in his cabinet. Perhaps they also felt that his words would not affect them or anyone else. All seven of Oklahoma’s Congress people were in attendance.
I imagine some of those same people might find that the government officials who boycotted the ceremony are pandering politicians and petulant “losers.” On the contrary, I think the boycotting was helpful in signifying to those who were marginalized and threatened by the president during his campaign that they still have supporters in Washington. Yet I would argue that there are even better ways of giving that signal, that this type of avoidance could prove counterproductive and that having attended the inauguration does not equate to complacency (Bernie Sanders went, college kids!), but does contribute to supporting the peaceful transfer of power.
Publicly announcing the symbolic gesture of avoiding a symbolic ceremony is not as useful as passing legislation. Some of the Congress people, such as Luis Gutiérrez (Democrat, Illinois), at least noted that they would be attending the Women’s March on Washington instead of the inauguration. While this is something of a symbolic gesture, it requires action instead of inaction.
Meanwhile, opposing Trump in part involves using connections and getting bipartisan support to increase your chances of passing or stopping bills. Practically speaking, because of the positions that these members of Congress are in, the maintenance of political connections is more useful to the resistance they purport to support than indignant cold shoulders.
Saul Alinsky, author of the book “Rules for Radicals,” wrote, “True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.” I disagree that this is the only true type of revolutionary, but I will say they are an invaluable type. Grassroots organization can do a lot, but eventually any movement needs people in the government to make sure the social impact they have accomplished is codified.