I recently came across these two photographs on social media. They both depict elderly protesters at recent anti-Trump rallies in the United States.
The photo on the left is of a woman named Shirley, attending her first protest rally at the ripe old age of 93. I found it on a Twitter feed of people posting that they were attending their first public protest. Most were young. But some were old. Like Shirley.
What’s happening in America when a frail 93-year-old is moved to protest for the first time? And is it a good thing?
Some are saying that such protests are just made up of sore losers who can’t deal with Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve heard (often), we need to stop complaining and just allow duly elected officials govern.
But protest shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. Indeed, protest is a noble cause, a collective responsibility, and a necessary form of self expression.
Here’s a few reasons why I think we shouldn’t be afraid of mass protests.
Protest is Essential in Liberal Democracies
Dissent is what forged democracy in the first place, and it remains essential in fomenting change in democratic societies. In fact, it moves those societies forward. It always has.
Protests nearly always arise in response to social or political changes and can therefore be rightly seen not as divisive, but as constructive. Protesters are nothing if not attempted change agents. Try to see these protests as opportunities. Listen to them. Consider what they’re saying. You still might not agree with them, but change begins with active listening.
Protest is a Form of Accountability
Let’s face it, protests are attempts by people in society to hold those societies accountable to the values they claim to espouse. The recent NoBanNoWall protests are calling the Trump administration, and the American people, back to their core values of welcoming the outsider and justice for all. The United States has prided itself on welcoming the refugee, the immigrant, the outsider. Recent protests are just holding citizens accountable.
Protest is an Expression of Hope
If nothing else, the thing that gets a protester to make a sign and head out the door to a march or a rally is hope!
I’ve protested against wars, apartheid, nuclear arms, and for refugees, women’s rights, racial reconciliation, and climate change policy. And every time I’ve done so, I believed my small presence in those large rallies would make a difference. At least, I hoped it would.
Did my presence make much difference? In some cases, no, it would seem that our protesting made no difference to government policy. But we were fueled by hope and needed to express it.
And we need to cultivate hope now more than ever.
Protest Asks us to Check our Privilege and Cultivate Empathy
At recent anti-Trump rallies young people were seen holding signs identifying their status as undocumented. This wasn’t merely bourgeois fist-shaking. It must feel like life and death for them.
Participating alongside those who are most vulnerable, hearing their cries, and offering solidarity to the most marginalized, only fosters empathy, awareness and, well, not to be corny, but love.
I really like this sign held by an old man at a recent rally. He’s right. Our humanity is at risk when we’re discouraged from offering solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the outsider and the refugee.
Protest can be an entirely constructive activity and should never be dismissed lightly. Something is going on. people are protesting in record numbers. Even 93-year-old Shirley. And we need to listen.