Why was I too hesitant to join the protest? 

The tension in the university is rising. The cameras in front of the Academy building give off an intimidating futuristic vibe. More and more people in my Instagram feed repost political news articles and stories from protests. Political opinions are now voiced in casual party conversations much more often too. 

Having taken part in such conversations a few times, I noticed a tendency. A lot of students do have very clear opinions, yet they very rarely actively participate in protests. This realization was rather a surprise to me. Are they scared? Are they unbothered? Are they indifferent and say the typical Dutch ‘Boeie’ to it? 

When I asked them why this is the case, their answers varied from being afraid for their academic future to saying that, in their eyes, protests won’t change anything. 

But one answer caught my attention. ‘Perhaps, we’ve become too individualistic’, someone said to me at a party. ‘Posting something on social media is seen less as “crowd” thinking than standing in a crowd. A crowd can sometimes voice an opinion you don’t completely agree with, or voice the opinion you do agree with in a manner you cannot get on board with.’ 

A crowd can voice an opinion you agree with in a manner you cannot get on board with

At first, this answer seemed like an excuse to me. I strongly believe that protesting is an essential tool for democracy. It can be taken away very slowly and subtly by implementing restrictions step-by-step if nothing is done against it in time. Yet, after leaving my morning lecture and walking into a protest, I saw and experienced what the person at the party meant. 

From the first seconds, the protesters were provoked by an aggressive intruder and they ended up in a fight. The police arrived shortly, but meanwhile, the bystanders, including myself, were just observing the happening. This continued while the protesters proceeded with their planned activities. I stood in the crowd, on the side, and was too hesitant to join in, without understanding why. 

On the way back, almost ashamed of my hesitation, I started thinking about what stopped me. I do care, I am bothered and I am certainly not indifferent. I realized I was afraid that the protest might escalate to a violent degree with which I do no longer agree. The thought of expressing my opinion with my words and my ways appealed to me more. 

Of course, to change anything, a certain degree of radicalism is frequently needed. But maybe if ‘the radical’ becomes too prominent, it scares people into retreating into their deep-seated individualism.

How can we still make a change but involve people with different approaches? More peaceful protests? Individual pickets? Educating events and fundraising fares? I do not know. But maybe these questions need to be discussed as well to achieve the goals that are set. 

LIZA KOLOMIIETS

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