What do UR Students Think of Protesting?

Just as businesses and especially restaurants closed their doors across the country, including many around and in Capitol Hill, to support immigrants on Thursday February 16th, for a “Day Without Immigrants”, the organizers of the Women’s March have announced a date for their, “Day Without Women”. The date is significant: March 8th, or International Women’s Day. But what do students of UR think of protesting and striking? Are they an effective means of social change? In this fraught political time, I am finding these questions more important than ever.

In order to answer this question I did what any normal person would do...I walked up to random students in Starbucks and asked them.

One of the many things I love about this campus is people’s willingness to talk about political issues. As I talked to people, others would hear us and join in and each conversation was respectful and informative. As with most things, people are torn. I spoke to many international students, including ones from the six countries that President Trump’s administration placed a travel ban on. Some of these students spoke to the fact that protesting only further divides the American people. “As a Syrian, I am very pissed off”, Zouhair, Class of 2019, told me”, but the thing is that people yelling doesn’t work. We have vilified a core of our groups...The only way America can be great again is if people want to be great together”.  

Students also mentioned that sometimes the real intentions of protest are not really social change. For example, Kahtib, a junior from Bangladesh said, “Protests only make the people who are there feel better, give them a reason to post on snapchat and benefit those who sell t-shirts”.

However, other students spoke highly of protest. “Protesting is very important to show your dismay with the system”, said Abulwahab 2017 Kuwait. “There is an effect in the sense you are showing the world how big you are as an opposition movement. At the same time, protesting is a basic civil right and we can’t abandon it. We should be practicing civil rights without causing violence, of course. That being said, we as liberals take identity politics too far and it’s going to take a longer learning curve for people outside of the movement to understand”.

Still others mentioned liability reasons, that it could be ensured that protesting wouldn’t turn violent and result in property damage and others said that protesting was vital in empowering movements. For example, the goal of the Women’s March on January 21st was to inspire wider political involvement. Many mentioned other protests in this country and mentioned all the current politics. However, for all the people I talked to, there was not one resounding opinion. What was resounding was the level of respect with which people talked about their political actions.  

But for all the people who thought that protesting was not the best way to invoke political change I asked them the question of what they thought was a more appropriate action. One solution was to make voting accessible to all and encourage people to do so As Kahtib, “When you are in a voting booth you can do whatever you want and that is an incredibly powerful thing”. Other solutions? As Zouhair, said “During this November election: vote! Work with your legislator, read the laws that protect you. Remember this country always comes first. We shouldn't vilify our own country”.