Protests: the sound of democracy at work

In the wake of anti-Trump protests across major cities, Thomas Rogerson affirms the value of public protest when backed with action.

Tom Rogerson
13th February 2017
In the wake of anti-Trump protests across major cities, Thomas Rogerson affirms the value of public protest when backed with action.

womens’ march on Washington, the whole Romanian government forced to back down on new legislation, and anti-trump protests the world over. If the last months’ protests were an indicator of discontent, then people must be pretty aggrevated to say the least.

The distance between electors and office holders is its widest for some time, and mandates for authority appear to be on shaky ground.  Indeed, Trump has entered office with the lowest approval ratings in recent history, amidst a continually hated Congress. Initiated by the women’s march and later as a response to the travel ban, millions of people have protested the policies of the Trump administration.

Are such protests useful? Does silence in the face of these events equal compliance?

Protests are often dismissed as vain and inconsequential in persuading policy makers and influencing major decisions. However, this is too sweeping a judgement.  Protests are a mechanism for highlighting societal issues that remain neglected by policy makers and those in power.

“Demonstrations serve a wider purpose of harmonising sections of society”

One assumption made of demonstrations is that protesters are seeking for an immediate, direct and unequivocal satisfying of their demands. Of course, in protesting they seek to address the issue, but demonstrations serve a wider purpose of harmonising sections of society in exchanging views and defining objectives.

Protests demonstrate some effectiveness for any of us who has occasioned on a protest in the City Centre and wondered “What are they protesting for?”, because they ask us to consider the issue at hand, if however briefly.

Central to the idea of protest is the raising of an injustice or systemic problem currently unaddressed by the agenda of policy makers, with the views of constituents ill-represented. Such representatives are often removed from the daily consequences of injustice and discrimination.

Frequently levelled at protests regarding civil rights and gender equality are “Why protest? You’ve got your rights now.” Simply, discrimination and injustice does not vanish at the statute book.

“Protests must be part of a wider co-ordinated citizen’s movement in pushing for a clear objective”

The Woman’s march against Trump reminded us of the injustices that our mothers faced, as well as the propensity for it to be perpetrated again.  It also reminds holders of power that attempt to transgress on such issues do so at their own peril.

Now, protests might not directly bring the Trump presidency crashing down, but they do question the legitimacy of his policies, whilst firmly reminding our representatives to hold fast to ideas of democratic freedoms, equality before the law, and tolerance of difference.  Such ideas mustn’t be abandoned the moment our leaders walk on the world stage.

As members of a democratic system we too must embody these ideals for democracy to withstand citizen apathy and the curtailing of power. Yet, protests are only as effective as what happens once everyone goes home.  Protest movements like Occupy fizzled out because they failed to clarify their aims and to attract wider appeal from the rest of society.  Whereas movements such as the end to of the Vietnam war and Scottish devolution succeeded because they had clear aims.

Protests must be part of a wider co-ordinated citizens’ movement in pushing for a clear objective, embodying it in their daily lives and ultimately reflecting it in their vote at the ballot box.

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