Protesting is a grand American tradition. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. And although “out in the street” is the classic form of protest, there are plenty of ways you can make your voice heard—loudly and vigorously.
Although there have been times of political lethargy in our past, street protest has sometimes changed the course of history. One of these was the late 1960s and early 1970s when antiwar protests finally made an impact and helped to end the Vietnam War. Howard Zinn called it “the greatest antiwar movement the nation had ever experienced, a movement that played a critical part in bringing the war to an end.” It should have ended sooner, of course, and saved some of the 58,000 U.S. fatalities.
I was among those out in the street and on campus in those years participating in antiwar protests. In fact, for years I was convinced I had an FBI file as a result of those activities. Recently I took advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to access my FBI file and was kinda disappointed to find out I don’t have one. Those photographers taking photos at the marches were really news photographers.
Despite the political horror show we have lived through since November 8, 2016, we can be heartened by the very active political protest movements of the last 16 months. The giant women’s protest marches and rallies have been grand to see and support.
But I’ve been most excited by the protests by young people demanding gun control since the Parkland, Florida, school shootings. As many have said, they’re our future and we need to encourage them and support them in every way possible.
That political enthusiasm by older teens has inspired younger ones too. Heidi Stevens wrote recently about 11- and 12-year-olds holding monthly benefits called Bake Sale for Justice and donating proceeds to social justice organizations. They’ve raised $13,000 since last November.
The students complain that they’re usually not considered old enough to volunteer. One student said, “We don’t want to just sit back and watch other people make a difference. We want to make a difference too.” Another said, “We want to live in a world that isn’t broken.”
Hurray for them. Buy a cupcake from any kids you see selling baked goods for justice.
Protest is our right, of course. To quote the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights: We have ”the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Protest can be in many forms. Pick yours from this menu and be sure to continue your protests regularly.
- Physical protests. Get out in the streets with placards and signs, with or without pink pussy hats. Participate in sit-ins and rallies at the sites of public entities that should be making changes in our laws and policies. College student sit-ins in the ‘60s and ‘70s are the model. Public school teacher protests in Oklahoma and Arizona are a current example.
- Making financial donations. Contribute money or make in-kind donations to political candidates, social justice and civil liberties organizations—and any others that support views you hold dear.
- Contributing your time and energy. You can donate to those organizations, but not necessarily out in the street. Every social justice organization needs people to handle phone banks, leafleting and other administrative tasks.
- Voting. Vote in every election. Encourage (even harass) others to vote and get involved in voter registration drives.
- Writing letters to the editor—to news media, publications and TV outlets, especially those that actually publish, post or read those letters over the air.
Did you know, by the way, that women don’t write these letters as often as men? You can see that by scanning the letters in any major publication. The researchers in the study I linked to have some explanations. But let’s overcome that. Make it your goal to write at least one letter a week to an important newspaper, online news medium or TV program. Make it brief, make it relevant to a news story covered, and make your points directly.
- Writing or calling your political representatives. Write letters to your representatives at every level—local, state and national. You can also make phone calls, which are actually tabulated by most public officials, and post those same opinions on social media.
- Protesting to corporations and influential nonprofits that can help or hinder these social justice issues. Did you write to the FCC with your views on net neutrality? Why not also write to the big telecom and cable providers that are fighting it? Explain to them why it’s important to civic engagement. An actual letter or well-written email to a senior executive is sometimes influential. This New York Times article gives tips on how to make an effective consumer complaint; apply these ideas to a political protest letter.
- Posting your views on social media. If you’re a blogger, be sure to post your own articles and comments on social media and political sites. If you’re not a blogger, share important news and opinion pieces from reputable media and post them on social media sites with your own introductory comment. And comment on others’ posts too—including data and links to credible sources whenever possible. It goes without saying that we’ll be civil when we do this. No threats or name-calling.
Remember, you have every right to protest. You cannot (should not) be arrested for protesting in the streets as long as you don’t break any laws such as damaging property or injuring someone. Here’s valuable advice from the ACLU about your right to protest.
And civic engagement is good for kids, according to a recent study. Take your kids with you if they’re old enough to understand the issues involved at their level. (Or if that’s the only way you can participate.)
Finally, First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and assembly apply to government action—any level of government. But your “First Amendment rights” don’t protect you if you choose to protest or complain about a company or private venue or entity. If you violate Twitter’s guidelines and get sent to “Twitter jail,” don’t complain that your First Amendment rights were violated. They weren’t.
This is another in our Printer’s Devil soapbox series by Third Coast Review’s editor in chief. See her original post for the story of the Printer’s Devil.
A final treat: Here’s Bruce Springsteen performing “Out in the Street” to a huge crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2009.