On Saturday night, over 12,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Omaha in solidarity with the over 450,000 people at the Women’s March on Washington. In most places across the country, several thousand people carrying signs bearing messages like “A woman’s place is in the resistance!” and chanting well-worn leftist incantations like “This is what democracy looks like!” would hardly be noteworthy. However, in a sparsely populated, reliably red, and politically taciturn state like Nebraska, the Women’s March on Omaha had the feel of something extraordinary.
Many march participants were clearly newcomers to the politics of protest. Even the march’s designated marshals seemed embarrassed as they implored the crowd to join them in platitudinous chants like “No hate, no fear/everyone is welcome here.” At a few points throughout the march, a group of presumably more seasoned activists tried initiating more overtly political chants like “My body, my choice” and “Fuck Trump!” Suffice it to say, these did not have much traction on the streets of Omaha. Obstructing traffic for a few minutes, calling attention to themselves, and making the most oblique of political statements was clearly all the transgression these characteristically reticent Nebraskans were prepared for.
While on its surface the Omaha march lacked boldness perhaps, anyone in attendance at all familiar with the norms and customs of Nebraskan political life knew that something remarkable was happening. In a state with an officially non-partisan state legislature where virtually all political debates are cast in quaint Progressive Era terms of transparency, efficiency, and good government, an otherwise vacuous sign declaring “Love trumps hate” takes on a subversive edge.
In addition to the women’s march in Omaha, Nebraskans also took to the streets on Saturday in sister marches in the state’s capitol, Lincoln, as well as the tiny central Nebraskan town of Loup City (population 1,029). The last notable political action to take place in Loup City was an anti-communist pogrom in 1934 in which local townspeople beat up a band of traveling labor organizers on the courthouse lawn. When the streets of Nebraska, from the CenturyLink Center in Omaha to the courthouse steps in Loup City, are ringing (modestly and politely, of course) with progressive voices, something tectonic is going on.