This was written on the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump as United States President. As I set down these thoughts many people I knew were preparing to protest this. Knowing this I felt … uneasy. Not filled with hope. I felt like I needed to say something about why.
To all of you who are planning to attend a protest this weekend please do not take what I am about to say as a criticism or slight. I hope that you do not think protesting alone is going to make any difference at all.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I think you should stay home. I’m encouraging you not to stop there. I’m asking you not to think a protest does more than it does.
What is the purpose—what is the value—of a protest? I would contend that it is to create visibility, to challenge assumptions, and to start a conversation that is otherwise not happening. Taken further protests can halt business, disrupt lives, and push things to a heightened state in the hope that a breaking point can be approached, reached, and passed.
My problem is that I don’t know if I believe that protests today, in this country, in this political climate, can accomplish any of those things.
Visibility: if a protest is not unprecedented in a significant way is visibility achieved? If there is not something dramatically different about this protest will it garner any meaningful attention?
Challenge assumptions: if 100,000 or 1,000,000 liberals protest Donald Trump’s presidency on Saturday is that surprising to the establishment? If 100,000 or 1,000,000 conservatives protested Barack Obama’s presidency did that change what we assumed about them?
Start a conversation: will any amount of people taking to the street for one day get people talking, especially across political divides? Will you talk to someone you don’t normally? Will they talk to you?
Halt business and disrupt lives: will 100,000 or 1,000,000 people taking to the streets for one day (or two or three) really accomplish this? As large as our nation is, as many people as we are, can this small fraction bring about the disruption? What industry will be shut down? Think about the great general strikes of our past. I don’t know how many people it would take, or how long it would take, but I believe it would have to be more and last longer.
So what’s the answer?
Go and protest. Enjoy the solidarity. Make a public statement. But… Don’t. Stop. There.
Call the front desk or switchboard of national and local media outlets every single day. Tell them when you are dissatisfied with their coverage of issues. Compliment them when you feel they’ve done a good job. Make sure your voice is part of the roar that fills their ears. If it’s not your voice it will be someone else’s.
Don’t attend a protest and then go out for coffee. Attend the protest and then go to your Congressional Representative’s office. Ask to speak to someone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a low level staffer you end up talking to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a whole group of you talking to one of them for three minutes. Get your voice heard. And, if you can, attend that protest and visit those offices in your state capitol instead of your local town or city.
Keep speaking up. Make a bloody fucking nuisance of yourself! Be loud! And you know what? Contribute financially to the causes you care about. Contribute your time to organizations fighting for the things that matter to you. Support the employee organizations that speak up for the rights and needs of all of us and not just the owner-class. Don’t just protest and think it is enough.