So This is an interesting thought that has been raised, for me, because of all of the comments around it. “Well if they just didn’t get in the way.” “I would have supported them, but they were just so annoying.” And of course there is the ever popular ethos post talking about how the protesters kept the little boy from seeing so and so.
I’m not sure anyone who says this understands the purpose, intent, or function of protest.
Ok, let’s be fair, there are multiple options of protest. As Jonathan Butler demonstrated a form of protest made famous by Ghandi, there is the hunger strike. This pressures someone else based on their humanity. “I feel so strongly on this subject that I am willing to put my health at risk by not eating.” This form of protest is a very big statement about the personal belief of the protester.
But it should be noted that folks who go on hunger strikes rarely do just a hunger strike. They continue to discuss and talk about the issue; to call on, out, and in others. They often participate in other forms of protest.
Next, we have the sit-ins (teach-ins, walk-outs, take your pick). These protests focus on occupying space. In these cases, people often move themselves into a store or restaurant. Or, if you are holding a walk-out or a teach-in, you remove yourself often times from a classroom and possibly host the session elsewhere. These methods are designed to place pressure on people by disrupting life in often the most minimal of ways. That said, if you have enough people involved it can be a very large and powerful disruption.
We also find marches, such as the march from Selma to Montgomery where they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Marches are designed as peaceful ways where the message being sent can be moved across a space. A march is designed to be disruptive in order to make it so that you are unable to escape the message.
The final form of protest, a protest line, is similar to a march except that it is situated in a space often designed to attract the attention of the people who ideally have the most power to change something about it or to create the greatest disruption (such as the recent Black Lives Matter Protest at the Mall of America). This form of protest is designed to be loud and in your face and by its design is meant to make it so you cannot avoid it.
I hope you noticed one common theme in protest: The idea of being in your face, unavoidable, and something you must deal with. The reason for this is that people who protest often feel their message is not getting out, is not being heard, or is flat out being ignored. In some cases they do so because their message is that they wish to stop being treated like second class citizens (for example, if that one boy missing his meeting completely ruins your entire view of the protesters who are also human beings and are facing in some cases severe oppression, you are treating those individuals as second class citizens).
See, protests are meant to make themselves, the message, and the goals unavoidable. They are designed to bring us together. See, people like to say, “well we would listen if they weren’t so disruptive” but the fact is that often times people are not disruptive initially. They follow the lines and create petitions, they speak to those who seem to have the power to change things. They trust the system. Protests come forth when those methods fail. When someone feels that they have not been heard, that change is moving too slow, when the pressure of the current way of life is not and will not work. Let’s be honest though, if you did not fully and openly support them before their protest, their protest had no actual effect on your support, it just gives you (or at least you feel that it does) an excuse to voice your opinion against them without being seen as combative or anything else (racist, sexist, conservative, liberal, take your pick because people protest for all kinds of reasons).
See, protests are an incredible part of US History. The Boston Tea Party that is often lauded in our history books, that was a protest. Secession? This might be a stretch to you, but it was the extent of protest when states felt they were not being heard and things were not moving the way they wanted. There were suffragettes movements, civil rights, war protests. As a nation, protesting has made us who we are and given the people at times, their strongest voice. So remember this, you may agree, you may disagree with what someone is protesting. You may find parts of your life disrupted by protests (like the news noted locally this morning that the bus driver protest could affect up to 100,000 people who travel daily on the bus). But do not use that to dehumanize someone. Don’t use that as an excuse not to agree or support them. If you disagree with a point of view, say so, and be able to say why.
So, What is protest?