In 2004, my elementary school simulated its own election. A projector showcased photos of George W. Bush and John Kerry as students placed their vote with clickers. I voted for Kerry, on the basis of a few Time for Kids articles and because I already owned an I Only Date Democrats T-shirt.
Unfortunately, our election emulated the general one, from the stickers and heated conversations, to the results. When the announcement filtered through the intercom— “Riverview Elementary students elected George W. Bush as their president!”— I refused to speak for the rest of the day.
I protested long before I knew what it meant. Yet when I came home and told my parents, my dad insisted, “You can have your beliefs, but you have to respect the president, no matter what.”
Since the election and inauguration of Donald Trump, I reflect on this moment daily. Is respecting the president an American citizen’s duty? Is it possible to represent and defend personal beliefs while respecting a president that threatens them? And what role does protest play in all of this?
A recent North Carolina bill proposed that drivers could legally run over — and even kill — protestors, so long as the road is blocked and it’s an “accident.” While this bill became a hot topic and headline other states quietly introduced similar legislation.
According to The Intercept, Colorado Republicans introduced legislation to reclassify the obstruction of oil and gas equipment from a misdemeanor to a class 6 felony. This move has been widely interpreted as a challenge to environmental protestors.
In Virginia, an emerging bill argues that if law enforcement warns protestors to disperse and they do not comply, they should face a year of incarceration and a $2,500 fine.
And in Indiana, conservatives promoted a bill instructing police to employ “any means necessary” to move protestors from roadways. Given the still fresh and vivid images of police unleashing tear gas in Ferguson, many can’t help but shudder.
Despite their extremity, these proposals shouldn’t come as a surprise. Just this month, one woman’s Facebook post calling the Women’s March unnecessary became a viral sensation. Tomi Lahren called feminists “crybabies” and said their protests, known for knitted pussy hats and expressive signs, were “arts and crafts posing as a social justice movement.”
Many people criticizing protests are also displaying hypocrisy. They praised Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman for encouraging others to embrace Trump, yet blasted Meryl Streep for not “staying out of politics.”
Conservative memes mocking liberals for protesting rather than “getting over it” circulated. Meanwhile, widespread 2008 protests against Obama birthed bitter slogans like Obama Bin Lyin’ and A Village in Kenya is Missing Its Idiot.
In fact, an image search for “anti-Obama protests in 2008” brought up a sign reading Obama, Who’s Side Are You On: USA or Russia? in the top results. However, confirmed reports that Russia interfered with the election have been dismissed, leading me to wonder… was it really international politics that worried conservatives?
Trump stands out as the leader and prime example of this contradiction. While he praised Martin Luther King, Jr. in a token black history month tweet, he mocked another extraordinary civil rights activist, John Lewis.
It’s not hard to uncover the reason why. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s brand of activism is safe— first, because he’s dead, and second, because it’s often referred to as “unifying” and “loving.” The protests of the moment— with angry, very much alive citizens on the front lines— terrify Trump.
They terrify a majority of the nation.
So, they do what’s easiest: call protesters lazy, say they don’t have jobs, dub them “divisive.” They create bills like the ones in Colorado and Indiana as a counter-threat.
They’re not evil. Most aren’t filled with hate. They’re just like my father: a rule-follower with exasperated eyes, asking me why I can’t just respect the president and live with things the way they are.
Similarly, protestors aren’t martyrs. We’re not infallible. We’re simply the people willing to say: “Not until he respects me first.” “Not when the way things are is actively killing me.”
We can’t banish protest to the past, with MLKJ and the Boston Tea Party. Instead, we must keep this tea well-served and piping hot.