As students at Gustavus, we are not unfamiliar to protests and their use for changes in various capacities. After the election of our current president, there were protests that, very keenly, looked forward to what our future as a nation could be. Upon the decision of Gustavus becoming a tobacco-free campus, students protested the various effects this rule would impose on students. During homecoming week, just a few weeks ago, there were protests that stemmed from a polarizing window painting in the cafeteria. And as we near the incredibly important election day of November 6, students are taking an interesting spin on protest and posting things on their dorm room doors in favor of their political views.
It seems as though everyone on campus falls on a spectrum of opinions pertaining to protest: many falling on one of the polarizing ends of being completely for protest and completely against. In light of this, I believe it is important for everyone to be a proponent for change and action through peaceful protest. If one is supporting the first amendment and the free speech it grants us as American citizens, there is no fundamental reason to be against those utilizing their first amendment rights through the form of protest. This being even more so if those criticizing the use of protest make use of the free speech granted to them through the first amendment by expressing their own opinions.
Recently, there was a teach-in about the legacy of protest in various academic fields for the 50th anniversary of the 1968 protests. These protests being important due to their widespread influence around the globe and their main topic: military imposition and bureaucratic-focused politics and influence.
It has been 50 years since these incredibly influential series of protests, and the importance of protest as a form of social change is as important as ever. And the ability to protest is a right that we, as Americans, should utilize in the best way possible. In light of our current social and political climate, this is more important than ever.
But it is important to note that the right to protest and free speech should not be an excuse to impose xenophobic, racist, homophobic, sexist, and any other elitism thought upon others. Protest and free speech are components to positive change: not the spread of the negative thought-groups that are ever-prevalent today. It is increasingly important to cover one’s bases and protest in a way that is safe for all those involved, for and against.
There is enough substance in today’s media, social and otherwise, to give one reason to protest each and every day. It is our duty to step up and make changes in our incredibly divisive social and political climate. And one large way of doing this is through protest.
What comes to mind when one hears the word “protest” is largely an image of people taking to the streets holding signs and chanting for change. But protest can take many other forms. These including ones like the nationwide walk-outs to protest gun legislation and violence that occurred one month after the devastating Stoneman Douglas shooting this past February. Or a continued protest, such as one many are participating in today: refusing to use plastic straws and, in turn, their effect on the environment. It can even be argued that simply going out and voting on November 6 is a form of protest in an incredibly organized way. This being a protest against our current political leaders and taking a decisive step towards change through our vote.
Protesting is not something to be looked down upon. We are guaranteed the right to free speech and a component of this is the ability to protest things that we feel are wrong and require change. Protests bring important issues to people’s attention, many of whom may have been unaware of the need for change prior to seeing or hearing about a protest. Not only can protesting be used to campaign for change, but to educate an uninformed audience as well.
So here is a challenge: the next time you come across a protest, ask those engaging in protesting what they are advocating for and why they felt compelled to do so instead of giving in to a knee-jerk reaction of judgment.