Recent protests plagued with misconceptions regarding their purpose


On Feb. 20, 2017, many Chicagoans came out to protest Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States. In what is known as the “Not My President’s Day Protest,” people protested against the President for various reasons. One of the main reasons for Chicagoans to protest was over Trump’s immigration policies, which has sought out to defund sanctuary cities, cities that have designated themselves to protect undocumented immigrants across the nation, including Chicago.

This, of course, is not the first protest about the President, nor will it be the last. People across the nation are attempting to challenge the new conservative establishment and those who promote it.

This is what makes now the right moment to analyze protests, concerns and discussions that surround these outbursts against the current political climate. Many have sought out to criticize these protests without fully understanding the what and why behind them. Now is time to reverse these misconceptions by talking about why people come out in protest, how violence starts, why it does within some protests, and talking about the lines that need to be drawn for protesting.

First, a common criticism of protests in this day and age is that they accomplish nothing. When these people gather out in mass to try and incite change, they might as well just shout at a random passerby for radical change. Many just cannot see it as a legitimate form of inciting change.

Here is the problem with said criticism. Protest are not meant to cause instantaneous change. Their sole purpose is to bring attention to a certain issue, like immigration or abortion or whatever the next hot-button topic happens to be. They are not revolutions, but just a push for reform. A protest is more like asking nicely for a thing you want rather than just instantly taking it.

One of the big controversies about recent protests is the controversy surrounding violent protests. Many protests recently have devolved into violence on an unprecedented scale. A recent example of this happens to be the protests and subsequent riots at UC Berkeley over the speaking of Milo Yiannopoulos, a right wing commentator who is known for his “trollish” behavior.

The main misconception about these types of protests is that the protesters themselves are the ones inciting the violence, which in many cases is just not true. For example, at Berkeley, the protests were initially peaceful. This was until, according to the university, around 150 masked agitators joined the protest and incited the violence.

So clearly, at least in Berkeley’s case, these “violent protesters” were not the ones initially protesting. They just happened to come in and ruin the event for nearly everyone involved. But this leads to an even bigger question. What would inspire such agitators to come in and incite violence on that kind of scale?

These kinds of people who join and ruin protests are a part of one side on the debate of violent protests. They believe that peaceful protests doesn’t solve anything or that such protests don’t bring in enough attention as they should or need. They resort to violence in order to scare the opposition into listening or applying reform. This is antithetical to the other side of the debate, of whom believe that violent protests do nothing but diminish the ethos of all protesters by making them look like animals to the public.

This is a hard debate to settle, as both sides have been proven right again and again. Going back to the Berkeley protests, the university did cancel Yiannopoulos’s event, but only after declaring that because of the protests, the event would be a safety hazard. However, although the violence did lead to success, the public began to view the students of Berkeley as violent “snowflakes” who threw a tantrum over a speaker coming to speak at their college. This is just one example of a time in which both sides were proven right simultaneously. Both views are very important, yet very finicky views to stay black and white on. It all depends on what is needed for long term success in the end.

One very valid complaint on the nature of modern protests is that they inhibit free speech. While protesting is very much a legitimate form of speech, it has been used to deny the free speech of others. Take, once again, the Berkeley protests. Yiannopoulos was not there to spread hatred or to directly agitate at all. He was there simply because he was invited to speak by the conservative population in the school about cultural appropriation. No one would be getting directly hurt, no one would be oppressed, and overall, no one would be impacted at a life level negatively by his speaking. The protest, in this case, was ultimately unnecessary.

This is where the modern protest comes ahead. The main problem many have with them, and which stem the main complaints and misconceptions, is the idea that they are not necessary. This is untrue. While yes, the Berkeley protests were unnecessary, the recent Chicago protest was very necessary, as it was toward a man whose very decision making can impact the lives of thousands, if not millions of people across this county.

The important thing for all parties to consider about protests is that it is not about if you can or want to protest. It’s about if that cause you are passionate about is something you should protest for.