What Does It Mean to Protest in 2016?
March 29, 2016
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6On March 7, 1965, a day that is known as “Bloody Sunday,” 600 Civil Rights demonstrators started their march from Selma, Alabama to the capital city, Montgomery. A total distance of around 50 miles, the determined activists marched nonstop for three days to take action against racial discrimination. Despite violent attacks from local and state authorities with fire hoses, tear gas, clubs, and dogs, the citizens peacefully marched until they successfully reached their destination. This historic march forced the nation to acknowledge the outcries of change and influenced the passing of the Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot by white police officer, Darren Wilson. While some peaceful protests emerged in civil displays of indignation, violent riots within the general vicinity consumed the entire city of Ferguson, Missouri. Many businesses were burnt to the ground and about 75 individuals were arrested due to riot involvement. This shooting marked the beginning of the scorching wildfire of societal unrest that set the entire country ablaze and grew to be an unignorable issue. Not only were many citizens physically protesting, a wide range of people contributed to the discussion miles away, from their computers, thus establishing a new form of protesting that the country had yet to experience when faced with social issues.
Individuals hundreds of miles away from the action were able to get involved due to platforms that simply did not exist during the Civil Rights Movement. With the help of social media, the nation was unable to tune out the thunderous unrest part of our country was facing. Tweets with #BlackLivesMatter flooded feeds and sparked a conversation with a similar subject to the ones that took place in 1965.
Amy McIssac, a history teacher at Barnstable High School, has noticed the evolution of protesting on a broad scale and social media’s instrumental role in this development. “I think that social media is a powerful tool for a message to reach a much wider audience. It allows ordinary voices to be heard,” McIssac said. Noting that protests are usually confined to their direct location, McIssac thinks that social media starts a discussion on an accessible platform where anyone can join. “Protests are no longer local in nature. They can transcend even international boundaries in real time,” McIssac added. “In places where the media is censored, social media can provide people with some very powerful instant access to images/video etc.”
Senior, Norah Murphy occasionally contributes to social issues discussions via Twitter. “I engage if it’s an issue I feel strongly about,” Murphy said. “I don’t do it very frequently though because an online political discussion can very quickly become an argument, and that’s never my endgame.”
Our nation has a rich, historical background of individuals practicing their First Amendment rights and we are fortunate enough to observe their progress from our modern position. And, just as we have heard time and time again, history repeats itself. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and the current discussion about racial equality contain many parallels and seem to be continuing a cyclical pattern of national outrage. “Both use protests to express their grievances about racial injustices and their want to end violence against African-Americans. I’ve even heard the Black Lives Matter movement called the 21st Century Civil Rights Movement,” McIssac added.
And just like the knock-off trends observed in the fashion world, many responded to Black Lives Matter with different and more inclusive versions such as, All Lives Matter. Shirts with “All Lives Matter” and stick-figure drawings holding hands appeared in store windows and Tweets with the hashtag littered feeds. However, the entire faux-movement was met with many indignant responses.
Many argue that, while it is true that all lives do matter, the point of movements like Black Lives Matter are to support minorities, thus the point of their specifically-aimed nature. “I think All Lives Matter is a knee-jerk response by white people who are uncomfortable with the fact that not everything is about them all the time,” Murphy stated. “Black lives matter specifically because they have been targeted by police brutality in ways that white lives have never been.”
While social media enables individuals to overcome the challenge of distance, many argue that it cheapens the value of physical protests. “I think there is value in [protesting on social media], but simply raising awareness to a cause is not putting in enough effort to solve the problem,” McIssac said. “In my opinion, it takes social activism to bring about lasting change. Raising awareness is just a starting point.”
McIssac noted that true change can only be facilitated by direct action, which can be observed in many fearless activists from our past. “The Alice Paul’s (an American suffragette) of the past took their protest signs to the front of the White House. They carried out hunger strikes, they didn’t simply update their Facebook status to ‘angry,’” McIssac stated. “The 19th Amendment was achieved by the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by thousands of suffragettes like her.”
“There are so many amazing examples in history of people who have protested the oppression they faced and have caused huge change in governments. Great protest movements were uncomfortable for those who took part. They usually involved boycotts, sacrifice and the threat of one’s personal safety,” McIssac said. “If people really want change, they have to do more than type on a keyboard.”