On January 19th, at the annual Washington DC march for women, I set foot in a different world. One blessed with the tolerance, support, empowerment, and development that today’s civic leaders are constantly fighting for. Walking amongst fellow citizens that share similar hopes and aspirations for the gender equality movement as I, allowed me to be hopeful amidst the current stressful political climate. I turned back to hear passionate voices, not demeaning catcalls. I saw eyes follow me in appreciation of sisterhood and unity, not in judgment of my body and clothing. I was walking and breathing a society that persistently strived to reach the end goal of all social movements: true freedom and equality that stops for no one. The kind that keeps marching despite the obstacles thrown its way. The cold, harsh wind slapping our faces was blissful compared to the real-life struggles thrown at us on a daily basis. The experience taught me something simple, yet so powerful:
We will march,
We will not give up, and
We will win
So give us your worst and watch us thrive!
People often question the effectiveness and functionality of protests in the modern era, but it has become an increasingly powerful tool to advocate for social change. It continues to maintain importance as the years pass, rather than slowly become less relevant.
The very foundation and progress of every country and every society within that country is rooted in the importance of the people speaking out. The idea of a group of people who seem powerless revolting against unjust practices dates back to the Magna Carta. Needless to say, the empirical significance of protests proves to be just as important for modern day social issues. However, people are quick to assume that protests have lost their importance over time because of misconceptions about the “changing times.” People question the effectiveness of marches and protests with a sense of pessimism. They doubt the extent to which real-world change can occur from a group of people marching around with signs. On the contrary, social events such as the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, and the overthrow of several colonial powers were made possible by the unwavering optimism of the protestors. The concept that they have lost power is statistically flawed as well. Consider the 2011 Egyptian Revolution which was brought to fruition through social media’s encouragement of the Occupy movement. All these movements relied on people who were not politically influential and didn’t have positions of authority to demand that power from its abusers. People in positions of authority may have the resources to implement social change in policy, but civic leaders who participate in marches, write articles, and bring awareness to the issues are a prerequisite to real-world change.
The underlying issue is how we as society view worthy causes. Just because the women’s march isn’t fighting for voting rights and we no longer face the problem of having to completely overthrow an entire government (No taxation without representation!) doesn’t lessen the value of the protests. Our nation has socially progressed to the point where certain rights and issues have been mitigated, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for further improvement.
With the rising influence of social media, people often argue the trend and need to glorify attending protests and marches deemphasizes the issue at hand. This causes a battle revolving around who can come up with the most creative hashtags and take the cutest pictures. If this is true, do protests serve to be nothing more than a fancy photoshoot to increase likes and gain followers (in the most superficial sense)?
Definitely not. The glorification is inherently problematic, but does not evaporate the overall necessity and power of protests themselves. Whether or not the trendy social media stars are aware of it, they are giving way for a movement to fulfill its purpose; spreading the word and uniting others to join. Quite frankly, if a relatively small portion of attendees were there to flaunt their photography skills and gain Instagram likes, we shouldn’t care. At the moment (maybe unwillingly), they represented sisterhood. If the passionate marchers yelling, “My body my choice” and “Impeach Trump” did it for superficial reasons, they still helped get the voices of others who cared heard.
Take South Korea for example. Their ongoing efforts through protests resulted in the impeachment of their president in 2017. Immediately after, Americans began to wonder if this is the approach we need to take to impeach Trump. Critics argue, “If governance structures were working properly then citizens normally would be channeling their concerns through institutional processes—reaching out to their elected leaders, going to the courts. Spilling out into the street is a sign of political dysfunction.” They believe protests are ineffective under the impression that the government is functional. Quite simply put, if the election of a president who has caused the government to shut down over a symbolically racist wall isn’t a major sign of political dysfunction, I don’t know what is! In this way, the harm lies in the absence of protests! We can very well get our voices heard through protests and promote unity and empowerment while sending powerful emails and letters to those in positions of authority. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive and together have the potential to expedite our goals.
At the end of the day, protests are about numbers. All protests are inclusive and welcome people from all types of backgrounds and beliefs because their influence increases as more people attend. This not only includes the glorifiers of the movement, but the people against women’s reproductive rights attendees who flaunted their disturbing posters of fetuses as well. Anyone against the movement attending assured all women that we are an intimidating force to be reckoned with and our efforts are worthwhile, powerful, and threatening.
In a country plagued with poverty, racism, income inequality, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, discrimination towards the LGBTQ community, and a myriad more, we may have made progress but we have a long way to go. As long as black people are disproportionately targeted by the police force, victims are blamed for sexual assaults, people of the transgender community are not given the right to use the restroom they feel comfortable in, and immigrants are mistreated by government officials, the relevance and power of protests will remain a necessity.