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If it gets the point across…

<rmer-hippie aunt has told me multiple times about her adventures fighting the establishment in the ‘60s and ‘70s. When I was very young, she spoke of one time when she protested the demolition of a local park by laying with her friends in front of bulldozers for over 12 hours.

“Weren’t you scared that you would get run over?” I asked.

“A little,” she replied. “But that was the point. If the city was willing to inflict pain on the plants in this park, they better be also willing to inflict pain on us by mowing us down with their bulldozers. That is the most important element in any protest, that the ideas of the movement are emphasized.”

I have held that last sentence close to my heart throughout my whole life.

When people hear the word protest, the image that appears in their minds is a bunch of people holding up signs and chanting in the streets. But in reality, protesting can encompass much more than that. It can be basically any community effort to change policy. Because of this quite inclusive definition, the only constant variable for successful protests is the thought put into the structure.

One movement that receives a lot of criticism for their protesting methods is Black Lives Matter (BLM) because they have used tactics such as stopping traffic during rush hour for their mission. Some people on the far right have even classified them as a terrorist group because of this.
Do these critics not realize what the purpose of BLM is? The movement intends to have the public recognize the ongoing and systemic forms of racism present in American society. By stopping traffic, these people in their cars are temporarily struggling through circumstances that they cannot control. BLM uses this tactic as a way of representing the struggles the black community suffers through, struggles that they too cannot control.

I understand a few of the criticisms of these tactics, like if there is an ambulance in need of getting through the traffic. I am not writing this column to state that all activism methods like this are objectively right. What I am trying to emphasize is that BLM has certainly gotten the public’s attention as a result. Largely thanks to BLM, conversations about systemic racism are gaining more space in conversations nationwide, whether it is between friends or members of Congress. These methods of protesting indicate that getting people’s attention is a vital component in success.
While arguably controversial tactics such as blocking traffic and lying in front of bulldozers like my aunt did may garner the appropriate attention, that does not mean the traditional-protesting-in-the-streets method is ineffective. In fact, street demonstrations can have tremendous power depending on the idea at hand. Many of the efforts relating to the Arab Spring were these types of protests, and look what effect those have had on many nations throughout the Arab world.

While the techniques of protesting certainly play a role, I think the ideas being considered are ultimately the determinant of a protest’s value and long-term success. I hate to use this example, but the Westboro Baptist Church’s use of street protests are obviously ineffective because their ideology is so deplorable. Even if they were blocking traffic, their arguments would not gain any more traction.

Furthermore, people do not protest just for the heck of it. Contrary to the common belief among baby boomers that millennials are entitled brats seeking attention, we actually care about the issues at hand and will not stop until there is change. For instance, I will be participating in the March for Science in the Twin Cities tomorrow because I am concerned about the rise and acceptance of “alternative facts,” and believe that American society must continue to care about scientific research and knowledge. I will fight until alternative facts is no longer a part of our vernacular. I cannot speak for all millennials, but still know that the general trend is fighting for issues of sincere personal passion for.

There is no simple formula that one can apply in determining the success of a protest. There just needs to be a subjectively right amount of solid ideas, solid methods and solid passion.

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