Protests not enough to enact real progress

Performative advocacy diminishes to impact of change making


Julia Baron

Marches hold signs and gather in front of the Minnesota State Capital to listen to speakers at the third annual Womens March.

For centuries, on both sides of the political spectrum, in moments of civic discontent, anyone can take to the streets, demanding change through protest. The First Amendment enshrines such efforts, protecting “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In the past year, there have been a number protests from March for Science to Women’s March. Still, what has protest done lately? Smartphones and social media are supposed to have made organizing easier, and activists today speak more about numbers and outreach than about lasting results. Is protest a productive use of our political attention? Or is it just social theatre we perform to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right?

This is a powerful moment seeing high school students bond and protest together

The power of marches and protests are more habit than solution. Protest is too fleeting. It ignores the structural nature of problems in a modern world. Protests and marches reduce the complexity of the situation down to a statement on a poster board. This impulse promotes a general inability to think systematically about change.

The topics that are being protested are rarely simple. Gender is not simple. Gun protests are not simple. None of these ideas should be compressed into a 10 word statement written on a poster board.

In the years when students have organized walkouts at Saint Paul Academy, the people who attend the protests either really care about the situation or are using the situation to take the day off.  In March 7, 2018 dozens of high school students marched out of school in promoting better school safety and protesting gun violence.

Last year, junior Sydney Therien held a sign that said “Protect PEOPLE, NOT guns!!!”

She marched for the whole route and made her voice heard among others.

This is a powerful moment seeing high school students bond and protest together. But it is not enough. Protests are just the beginning. The tip of the iceberg of every problem. Protests focus on a particular issue within a bigger problem. Change is going to take a lot more than words on posters and shouts from rallyers. Change is going to take listening from the community. After all, the community does not have the power to change laws, but it has the power to change minds.

Not all the people attend walkouts to protest. Some simply attended to be with friends. Protesting is all about socializing and sharing ideas. But when people are attending protests for no reason other than to have a day off, it is unacceptable.

The core of protesting comes with the idea of care and a desire for change. While there will always be people who care at protest, walkouts, and marches, the number of students who treat protests as a day off is growing. Protests are meant for people who want change and who care, not for the people who don’t. Protests are social events that allow people to voice and share their opinion and hopefully be listened to. Protests are worth the time and effort so long the people are devoted to a cause.   

This piece was originally published in the February print edition of The Rubicon.