Protests drive forward important social conversations

United States. Hong Kong. Bolivia. Peru. Spain. Chile. France. Lebanon. In all of these countries, and many more, protesters have taken to the streets this year to have their voices heard.

 Around the world, protests serve as an important tool concentrated in the hands of the public: to force the people in charge to listen. In a time where protests have become increasingly ubiquitous, it’s necessary to remember how powerful these demonstrations can be.

Since 2009, the amount of global protests has been increasing, reaching numbers last seen in the 1960s, according to The Guardian. Many of these protests have their roots in the same basic problems all over the world: quality of life, economic difficulties and corrupt politicians. In Chile, for example protests began over a $0.05 price increase for metro fares.

“It tends to be about something related to the economy and/or a broader lens of geopolitical issues, whether it’s climate change, income inequality, access to healthcare or women and reproductive rights,” social science teacher Pete Duffer said. “I think it varies from a very localized political or legal issue to a more international issue, like climate change.”

Protests can take many different forms. Some feature people marching down streets with picket signs and clever chants, like the annual Women’s March that began as a result of high profile sexual assault cases. In others, workers refuse to show up for work, instead striking for economic demands, like the recent Chicago Public School strikes.

 Although peaceful protests are usually considered the ideal option, recent protests in many countries have turned violent, usually after the government had sent in police or military forces. These protests-turned-revolutions have been seen this year in places like Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon where people are protesting corrupt governments.

“You need to know everything that the protest is about, know what your goals are and know what your platform is,” social science teacher TJ Brooks said. “You’ve got to understand that that’s an important part because people are going to ask questions while you’re protesting.”

While protests may have the potential to become violent, at their core, they come from a place of hope. They are the belief that a country, society or even the whole world can be better if we work together. 

Here in the U.S, the right to peacefully assemble is protected under the First Amendment. Not only are protests an influential tool today, they have been a central part of our political process since the very beginning. Our country began with protests and boycotts against a corrupt government, and as a result, we will always have the power to speak out together. As senior Mia Williams, who attended the recent Global Climate Strike, knows, few things are as compelling as a crowd of thousands demanding action. 

“It felt very empowering to be amongst such a big crowd that shared the same passion that I did,” Williams said. “It was really fun too because of the energy that everyone gave off.” 

But ultimately, as exciting as they may be, protests are a last resort. Nobody wants to have to take to the streets. In the United States, we elect officials to influence government on our behalves and it’s supposed to be their job to handle societal issues. Yet, when the systems we have in place fail to do their job, public displays become the only option. 

“When people are in disagreement towards whatever, whether it be the government, whether it’s whose in charge, this is the way to voice your opinion,” Brooks said. “Strength is in numbers, so when you do gather large groups of people it brings in media and it brings in dialogue and talks.”

Of course, protests alone cannot change everything. True societal improvements take time and legislation, which requires people working within governments and other powerful organizations to push forward the cause. Still, protests can get the ball rolling and bring attention to issues that might otherwise have been ignored.

“Protesting is good, it gets you some awareness, but the next step, is ‘what do we want to happen?’” Duffer said. “We need to answer that question or otherwise we’re going to be stuck protesting all of the time.”

From the days of the American Revolution to the March For Our Lives and the Global Climate Strike today, protests have served an important role for our government and our society. They can be the match that lights the fuse, pushing forward change on a global scale. For the individual, they prove that the most valuable thing we have is our voice.

“If you don’t protest, there’s never going to be any change,” Williams said. “If you don’t vocalize your feelings about your topic, whether it’s good or bad, it’s never going to be heard and no one is ever going to take into consideration your thoughts and feelings.”