Are protests just a distraction?

I care, I promise. But it feels like an exhausting pursuit to show that I, too, am standing up and advocating for change. 

This past Friday, I was upset that I wasn’t able to attend the International Women’s Day protest held at the university’s Academy building. My friends did attend and I was left with FOMO, but from their feedback and after reading the recent UKrant article about this particular protest, it turned to guilt. 

I was completely unaware of the entire Donya Ahmadi case and was more preoccupied with whether I was perceived to care, when in fact a bigger scar on my reputation would have been being an uninformed fool in the crowd.  

I wondered how many people in attendance were also unaware. This led me to question the very principles of protests. Historically, protests have been invaluable to causes of great importance, from women’s suffrage parades to civil rights movements all around the world. Protests are empowering and essential to freedom of speech, but the question is whether protests today are still achieving the goals they set out to. 

If a protest does not succeed in effective change, does this render it pointless? Protests today are more quantitative than qualitative, which I think calls for exploring alternative methods. 

The best question to ask is: Did the people I am using as an example even ask for this to be done in their name? 

For students like me, it is important to feel like we are active in the change that we vouch for, but often perceived change or involvement is the full extent of our efforts. If the cause is the river starting high in the mountains, then we are the water way down stream where the message might get lost. 

The example of the students occupying the academy steps last year can serve as a good lesson. The lecturer getting fired might not be the core problem; it is important to ask if they even deserve your selfless devotion, seeing as how you might not have the full story. The best question to ask is actually: ‘Did the people I am using as an example even ask for this to be done in their name?’ 

If a protest is more symbolic, then rather than following the crowd with a sign and making an Instagram post about it, I would like to know what tangible change I can make. For example, protests about the climate crisis are not reaching the suits that need to change. In that case, maybe using this higher education that we are receiving to create sustainable solutions is much more valuable than another protest which adds to the noise. 

The right to protest and the right to freedom of speech should not be taken for granted. If we reduce the noise pollution, when the moment comes that something important must be said, it is much easier to hear. 

CARLA ERASMUS

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