On Saturday, January 21, more than five million women gathered in various locations around the world at over 670 planned marches. The intent was to show the new leaders elected in our government that women of all ages are a strong force, and issues of importance – equality, health care, race, issues with disabilities, and sexual assault – are topics that need more positive attention through policy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy also works in partnership to address these challenges for our youngest residents.

The rally which I attended in Oklahoma City was a gathering of men and women from different parts of the state. Those assembled were very happy with the turnout, estimated by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at between 12,000 to 14,000 participants.

There are different types of events meant to inspire change, ranging from marches, to protests, to riots. Marches are intended to be peaceful demonstrations to promote a cause. Protests are gatherings to encourage action, but usually with an anger associated with that effort. Riots are full-scale outbreaks of criminal activity which lead to arrests and upheaval. A good contrast to Oklahoma City’s peaceful, constructive rally would be the riots that occurred in Washington, D.C. surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Those riots led to more than 230 arrests, property damage and persons injured. The very next day, thankfully, more than 500,000 people marched in the same city with not a single arrest. The riots were counterproductive and destructive; the peaceful rallies and protests are continuing to spark a productive dialogue.

As that dialogue continues, I hope that both sides will work on improving the way they communicate with each other. Even at peaceful rallies, which were filled with well-meaning people, the use of vulgar language on some of the signs was off-putting and unnecessary. In addition, many children were in attendance. To get these young folks active in inspiring better policies through activism is vital. Those who carried ill-mannered signs need to understand this hurts these young people by associating politics and civic engagement with cynicism and vulgarity. Protesting in this manner also gives the other side more cause to refuse to come to the middle for the dialogue.

That being said, I do believe the overall message, especially from the marches in Oklahoma, was extremely positive, genuine and much-needed. There are just as many people uneasy about this current administration as there were eight years ago from the opposite political spectrum in the Tea Party. Both that effort and this current one demonstrated to those concerned there are others with similar views and they are not alone, even though it sometimes feels that way. That part of the healing process will be important going forward, but only if positive actions follow.

Some have criticized these marches, but this goes to one of the core principles of our nation to allow people to peacefully assemble and hold their government accountable for better policies.

If the participants of these marches truly decide to pursue that necessary effort to influence policymakers, our nation could become more like what they championed. Better yet, the children who attended might not only initiate their own positive activism someday, but will hopefully live in the world which was promoted in the more positive messages delivered on Saturday.

If you want to join us in this effort, sign up at oica.org to volunteer!

Joe Dorman serves as the CEO for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The mission of OICA is creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.