Why so many protests are accomplishing so little
Protesting has morphed from a display of civic unrest and dissatisfaction into a trendy pastime. The instant gratification that comes with crowding the streets with clever and punny posters to express outrage and to protest a system that has failed its constituency is far too satisfying to give up.
Unfortunately, the dull and complicated follow-up that leads to real change is not nearly as appealing nor does it garner as much support as the massive demonstrations that have congested the press, social media and the streets of our cities.
Protesting was once a tool, guarded staunchly by our First Amendment, employed by citizens infuriated by systems of oppression. These systems targeted the most vulnerable and most easily silenced members of society, such as women, the LGBT community and minorities. The landmark triumphs that have been achieved, such as civil rights legislation and women’s suffrage, are undeniably legitimate.
What discerns modern day protests from their more organized predecessors, such as the March on Washington or the anti-Vietnam War marches, is coordination, or lack thereof.
Martin Luther King Jr., who seems to be the most revered protester in American history, emphasized awareness as the first accomplishment for change.
The awareness of our generation is overwhelming. Cause after cause is easily accessible through a simple Twitter scroll.
Systems of oppression have always existed, but this newfound access to international plights such as the horrifying massacre in Gaza, the genocide in Myanmar, the atrocities in Syria and the corruption in Egypt, inundate us. It is difficult to rally for everyone and everything, but we feel a responsibility to.
This urge to empathize and help should be channeled into one specific cause, but that just takes so much effort and education. The alternative — tweeting out #PrayforSyria or #ThoughtsandPrayers or #NoBanNoWall — is much simpler and far more gratifying than organizing real change.
These hashtags do boost awareness, but lately, they just promote our own indolence.
Having this baseline awareness, knowing the countries undergoing revolution and persecution but knowing nothing of the realities within them, perpetuate pseudo “wokeness” that undermines any possibility of change.
The 24-hour news cycle and social media force constant information to the point that it cannot be filtered, processed or even verified. Researchers from MIT found that fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter.
Misinformation has become contagious.
The Moratorium to end the Vietnam War in 1969, which began on 300 college campuses and grew into a national movement, was entirely unprecedented. It introduced the notion of protest. Walter Cronkite said, “Never before had so many demonstrated their hope for peace” in regard to the demonstration of 100,000 people in the Boston Commons, one of the biggest rallies in U.S. history. It didn’t end the war, which continued for six more years, but it did shift voters from LBJ to Richard Nixon, who promised to end it.
This march set an example for organization, public policy, litigation and marching for awareness. Our protests end the minute we leave the rally. Our passion doesn’t follow us in our day to day lives. These rallies are an outlet for our disappointment, not an avenue for change.
The Women’s March this year, which pushed female empowerment and protesting the president, is considered the largest single-day demonstration in American history, according to the New Yorker. Yet following the parade of witty signs and smiling diverse arrays of faces, there has been little push to mitigate the wage gap or hold the president accountable for his many sexual harassment scandals.
The warm and fuzzy sentiment that rewards us for our slacking participation in these protests also traps us in complacency that sabotages real change. The key to success for any historic protest was access to the media, but our generation faces the curse and blessing of having all media in the palm of our hands. Literally. This makes it impossible to discern between irrelevant and relevant.
The follow up should be pushing for votes, pushing for litigation, pushing for public change. Our politicians are well aware that these rallies mean very little in their voter count, and that is why Marco Rubio will apologize and continue to take NRA money and continue to be reelected.
The March for Life poses a real opportunity for my generation to reclaim the vigor of the public protest. The foundations have been laid by the revolutionaries before us if we know how to build on them.
Protesting is a part of the American DNA. Distorting this great staple of our country into some pastime is the greatest injustice we could do to ourselves and every voiceless individual suffering under a system of oppression that mangles any opportunity they have for liberty and equality.
Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected].