Yesterday’s massive protest activity was impressive on its own, but it also serves an important democratic function. In Robert Dahl’s 1972 classic book on Polyarchy, he devised three axioms that propose to predict when regimes will move towards full democracies. In his view, full democracies (polyarchies) both allow dissent (contestation) and give broad sets of people opportunities to get involved in the political process.
Axiom 2: The likelihood that the government will tolerate an opposition increases as the expected costs of suppression increase.
Massive protests like the one held yesterday signal to the regime in power that efforts to stifle dissent will be met with large-scale resistance (hence the costs of implementing tools of repression will be high). This is important for any democratic system, since having to hold off on repression reinforces an open competition for power.
The big challenge for organizers of the women’s march is turning a “show of resistance” to an expansion of inclusiveness in the political system. How many of the marchers yesterday will run for office or remain as activist and organizes over the next 22 months before the 2018 mid-terms. Protest activity can ensure that the system is at least a competitive oligarchy, but it can’t by itself ensure political inclusiveness.. for that protest has to be translated into direct political power. The Tea-Party movement is an effective object lesson.