AT ISSUE: The potency of protests
OUR TAKE: Different, but not diluted
Last week, we covered the protests that erupted in downtown Boston following the results of the election—mainly, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. In the past week, we’ve seen rallies, protests, and community gatherings that seem to promote a variety of social causes—from women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or the right to simply not accept the decisions our country has made.
Of course, protests aren’t a new phenomenon. The legitimacy of peaceful protests is a constitutional right of American citizens—a vital sign of a fully functioning democracy. Women’s suffragettes protested for over fifty years to earn their right to vote. Protesters fighting for desegregation in the Civil Rights movement shook the country. More recently, American people have taken to the streets to fight for marriage equality. While they occurred in different decades, all of these protests had a distinct goal that they were ultimately able to achieve. The same cannot be said for some of the protests we have seen recently.
While the demonstrations that have occurred in the last week or so claim to protest Trump’s presidency, their true motive is vague at best. One of the most popular Facebook events for a protest that took place the day after the election was created by a group called Boston Socialist Students. While this protest certainly pertains to issues surrounding social justice, it was unclear what in particular the protest targeted. Was it the electoral college that elected Trump? Or the registered voters who didn’t go to their polling place? Without a specific cause, many protests and rallies lose their potency. Their underlying issue is easily dismissed, regardless of how important the topic may be.
These demonstrations are distinctly different from the protests of the Civil Rights Movement. While those marches sought to change policy, and often involved ultimatums, the marching of Emerson students seems to be mainly cathartic. In the face of events that are distressing and even depressing, marching in the streets is a release of tension that is otherwise not societally-appropriate to express. Arm-in-arm with fellow students, we are able to voice our beliefs in a way that is peaceful and powerful.
Not every rally needs to result in policy change, nor does every demonstration need to end with violence. But something is definitely happening here. Though the results of these protests may be hard to trace, they are far from intangible. Protesting allows students to exercise their freedom of speech, which is especially important in the wake of our president elect. More than anything, protests get people talking about the issues that are important to them.
Let’s recognize that these protests are just the beginnings of our action. Our post-election fear, anxiety, and anger indicate (loudly and clearly) that we cannot be complacent. And we won’t be. The next four years might be the most politically engaged years of our lives. Instead of looking vertically, to our government, representatives, and elected leader, we need to look laterally— to our communities. Through protest, we look each other in the eyes, we lean on our peers’ shoulders, and we learn how to organize and mobilize. Grassroots movements are the catalysts for policy change. This is how we begin. Protests provide a place to vocalize, but more importantly, harmonize in our hurt, then our anger, and finally our action. There’s a poetry and a science to this activism, and its proven time and time again to be effective. Within a crowd, we find unity in our pluralism and give volume to our hopes.