Opinion: Clearly Defined Protests are a Successful Form of Activism
From the March for Life to the March for Our Lives, peaceful protests and assemblies have become a focal point of public interest. The right to assemble — that fundamental right given in the First Amendment — has been imbedded throughout American history.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in both political awareness and public activism. A successful march, protest or rally is often defined by its impact on legislation, elections and public policy. Many current protests are achieving these purposes, while others have become lost along the way.
In his column for the Huffington Post, Chad Williams discussed various elements of a successful protest. The march must have clearly defined policy goals and visible leadership. Williams used the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as the standard and compared the impact of that movement to many modern demonstrations.
The most effective protest is one that clearly addresses policy issues. The March for Life has always been in direct support of the Buckley Amendment. As explained by the New York Times, this amendment would have overturned the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, and leaders agreed to continue this march every year until that amendment was passed through both Congress and the states.
The March for our Lives has also sought to change policy with its clear and visible message. The homepage on the website features a link for voter registration for the youth who have joined the movement. The next link sends readers to five practical steps of gun control policy, including large magazine bans and increased background checks.
When it comes to visible leadership, the modern protest has a significant advantage over past generations. The rise of social media has provided a platform for people to speak out and amass their own following. David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, is one example.
Hogg has gained a Twitter following of over 700,000 people and has been provided a platform to speak before national audiences and on live television. He has inspired his following to pursue unity in achieving their goals. At the march, he spoke of those who opposed gun control, saying, “They will try to separate us by religion, race, congressional districts and class. They will fail.”
Similarly, the Tea Party movement was a protest that began in 2009 and was successful due to its legislative purpose. Groups gathered in response to government overspending and taxation. This group was in large part responsible for Republicans regaining majority control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
Unfortunately, many protests and demonstrations have become a reactionary response, rather than a proactive policy initiative. Williams addressed the Black Lives Matter movement and its response to individual police shootings. While there is an argument for discriminatory police brutality, the reactionary riots to specific shootings have not accomplished an effective goal.
These protests are contrary to the effective and lasting impact of the Civil Rights movement that led to the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. This movement was headlined by the March on Washington in 1963, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have A Dream” speech. The Smithsonian Magazine documented over 220,000 attendees participating in this march in the nation’s capital.
James Baldwin, a poet who was present at the march, spoke of the impact of King’s speech. He said, “That day, for a moment, it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real; perhaps the beloved community would not forever remain the dream one dreamed in agony.”
This momentum carried forward to the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
A people who stand up for what they believe is what makes the American democracy unique. The protests of recent years have advanced conversation, engaged in policy and created a culture of public awareness.
As King said, “Somewhere, I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere, I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere, I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere, I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”