The Women's March on Washington occurs this Saturday, January 21, and is expected to be one of the largest political protests in recent U.S. history. Despite a somewhat rocky start (including a name change due to the fact that the protest's initial name, the Million Women March, echoed the names of two African-American protests against racism, 1995's Million Man March and 1997's Million Woman March), the march is shaping up to be one of the most important events of the American political year. But amidst the organizational frenzy, the growing protest momentum and the hopes that it will have a truly spectacular turnout, there have been bigger questions — questions familiar to anybody who's ever participated in a protest march: will it actually change anything at all? And what factors can actually make a protest march achieve any of its aims?

It's not a new worry. Concerns about the efficacy of protest marches have been around for an extremely long time, and not without reason — for every one protest that brought about clear change (Gandhi's Salt March across India in 1930, for instance), there are counter-examples of ones that fizzled out, or simply came up against literal or figurative brick walls.

But how do we define "effective" when it comes to marching? And what do social media, democracy, political organizations and a good dose of history have to do with whether or not they might work? Let's learn more about how marches create change — and why, in many cases, we have to wait for decades afterwards to find out if a protest was truly "effective."

What Actually Makes A Protest Create Change?

[printable page]