Why Protesting May Not Be Enough

As midterm elections approach in one of the most tumultuous political climates in American history, we are all urged to get out and vote. We represent the future of the country, so it is obviously imperative that we make our voices heard. But our voices can’t simply begin and end at the ballot box.

Since the 2016 election cycle, I have attempted to be as politically active as I can - attending every protest, rally, campaign event, meeting, etc. I could, urging others to do the same. The same faces floated through every crowd, as if they were part of a traveling circus, each one holding Facebook-inspired signs or chanting a vague reference to our political rights. The novelty soon wore off. Though it was encouraging to see so many people loyal to several causes, it began to feel empty. I wondered, what ever came from any of our efforts? It seems to me that the complexity of contemporary politics as well as the intricacy of our political system have increasingly nullified the power of protest.

It is much simpler to consider whether women should be regarded, in the eyes of the law, as equals rather than half-people. Whether children of color deserve access to the same educational resources as white children. Whether the hairspray-reliant styles of the ‘80s can be adapted in order to prevent further ozone damage. In the new millennium, we have entered an age of big picture politics (which, almost in contradiction, require us to examine the minutiae of societal functioning). The question is no longer whether women or people of color simply deserve some rights, it is now focusing on the institutional structures that create and continually reinforce inequalities. Today’s issues are quite complicated and not so easily answered by legislation presented by the two party system. This difficulty either frustrates citizens into giving up on this system altogether or pushes them into giving up and picking whichever side kinda sorta Gets It. As we’ve seen recently, this polarization is exacerbated by soured international relations. Regardless of intervention, polarizing discord is the name of the game in politics.

The republican (as in 'republic' not Republican) aspect of our government inherently places the burden of action in the hands of a few, but they run into problems with the cooperative nature of a House and Senate. With so many different popular views to be represented by politicians, it can be difficult for those in office to keep up and appease everyone—or even anyone. As a result, many believe that the Democratic party is stuck in the past, while the Republican party has seen an internal split between those who support Trump and those who don’t. The focus has shifted from trying to represent the evolving views of the people, to simply trying to combat rising debates between government officials. Attention is not on solving structural inadequacies, but on maintaining the metaphorical sanity of the system altogether. Do politicians have the time to truly advocate for universal healthcare, let alone the more difficult demands, when the other side is attempting to dismantle existing acts for an opposite transition?

Beyond that, the impotence of protest has existed for nearly two decades. Occupy Wall Street, one of the biggest examples of the 21st century, inspired protests globally and had its issues brought to the forefront of presidential debates with Bernie Sanders. But this was a movement that was seen and not heard. Income inequality is practically synonymous with capitalism, making it a very difficult issue to tackle—it is deeply ingrained in our economy. It takes a hot minute for proposals to become reality, however none of Sanders’ proposed solutions have been on the docket. This is the case for every protest. Is it a lack of commitment, in the citizenry or elected officials, or both? Is it systemic instability? Or is it simply the wrong approach for such complex topics?

One could argue that politics—particularly more liberal beliefs, as previously seen—are commercialized. This phenomenon encourages superficial participation at best, with no commitment of voters to their causes and no expectations placed on those in power.

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, their existence demonstrates how important it is to vote where your values are and take an active stance this November.