Over the past month, protests have dominated the news worldwide. For instance, in Hong Kong, protests against the government have escalated dramatically, with tens of thousands of protestors violently clashing with police. In Iraq, another wave of anti-government demonstrations has led to at least 95 people being killed. Students and young adults inspired by the climate activism of those such as Greta Thunberg held a climate strike around the world in late September.
Whenever large protests seize national attention, one common question usually arises: will it do anything?
When faced with the power of governments, corporations and other organizations, many people have difficulty believing that whatever they may do will actually make a difference. This is not hard to believe.
In Hong Kong, months of protests by incredibly large groups of citizens have accomplished little. While the government did rescind a controversial extradition policy that spawned the protests, it continues to send out police to dish out beatings en masse.
In Iraq, as mentioned before, protests have been met with death at the hands of security forces, with police firing live ammunition into crowds.
Here in the U.S., despite the clarion calls for climate action from thousands of young people, the Green New Deal has not been passed in Congress or the fifty states.
This does not include the innumerable other protests, strikes, vigils and demonstrations that take place every day around the world that we are largely unaware of. They go unnoticed by the media, are ignored by the government and often face ire and counter-protests from their own neighbors. And in all of this, little is actually accomplished.
So why protest? Why invest the time, money, effort and energy to wave signs and give speeches that will do, for the most part, nothing?
Because they can do something.
From the peaceful resistance that brought India its independence to the Civil Rights Movement to the years of protests that won rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, protests have worked. The idea that they are ineffectual, while bearing a seed of truth, is merely a mindset that will cripple any movement.
Though your protest may not lead to immediate change, it is not in vain. Every great movement has to start somewhere, with someone. Though it may take time, as more and more people are inspired, more and more of those in power become aware of what they’re up against. Politicians and executives, as powerful as they may be, ultimately depend on the goodwill of the common people.
When students go on strike to demand change, they may be brushed off by some politicians. But when November comes, and election day has arrived, the protests will pay off, as these same politicians find themselves without a job.
When every demonstration is backed up by action, a protest is effective. Though only a few may have the power to make new legislation or policy, people still have tools at their disposal.
Through boycotts, petitions, civil disobedience, work strikes and most importantly, votes, people can create the change they desire.
This is the healthy mindset that we must have. If everyone decided that protests didn’t do any good, then no one would protest and there would be a 100% chance of nothing happening. So continue the protests, even if it’s tough. Do what we must, because if we don’t, we are surrendering ourselves to the whims of the few in power. Demonstrate, shout, protest and use your vote to hit them where it hurts. Be it for independence, for democracy, or for climate action, protests are the catalyst for community change.