The Power of Protest

With the occurrence of two protests against the formation of a pro-life society within the university, there has been discussion surrounding whether protest is an effective way to incite change. In light of the current status of protest in parliament, this conversation has never been more significant; The Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill carries heavy implications for the future of protest in the UK. The current bill already  aims to provide police with further powers to stop disruptive protests, but home secretary, Priti Patel, has recently made it known her intentions to amend this bill to include a travel ban on protesters with a ‘history of disruption’. This introduces another layer to the discussion; are non-peaceful protests justifiable due to efficacy? This article will address the political and social advantages and disadvantages of protest in hopes of answering these questions.

Protests hold significance within politics. By tracing influential revolutions, it becomes evident that protest is often key to enforcing political change; the American and French revolutions and the Industrial Revolution are prime examples of this. Increasing political participation is a crucial benefit of protesting as currently there is an arguable deficit, with election turnout having depleted since the 20th century. Ensuring political participation is one way of defending democracy; the famous March on Washington had over 200,000 attendees – the large attendance demonstrated the importance of the issue to mass amounts of people, which had great impacts upon the executive. This protest is even credited with pressuring JFK into signing civil rights legislation into law. Not only is this an example of how protests provide opportunity for the public to become involved, but it also demonstrates how protest provides a means of representation for minorities. Black Americans were grossly misrepresented in congress during this time and voter suppression meant they had no other way of being heard. However, if the message of a protest does not fit with government agenda, they are easily ignored. For example, the demonstrations of the suffragettes (such as the bombing and arson campaign) were not successful by the time the war called them to end. That being said the women’s rights group did continue fighting for all women to have the right to vote after 1918. To what extent is it thus fair to consider this instance a failure?

Another argument in favour of protesting is that it raises awareness for the general public. Both extinction rebellion and the George Floyd protests have been successful at this; the former has used their high public profile to raise public awareness of the climate issue (and thus earning them a larger membership), whilst the latter raised awareness of police brutality in the US, and drew focus onto police brutality as a global issue (in the UK, this led to cases such as Mark Duggan, Sarah Reed, Sheka Bayoh, and more recently, Sarah Everard, being brought into light). On the other hand, a social disadvantage of protests is that it can lead to higher arrest rates due to mass congregation. Linking back to the aforementioned examples, there were over 10,000 arrests made throughout the Floyd protests. Floyd’s murderer, however, was charged with over 22 years, denoting success despite the overwhelming number of arrests. Extinction rebellion suffered over 500 arrests with 69 being charged after they staged a two week roadblock in London. Nonetheless, after the roadblocks ended, the UK announced a climate emergency indicating that their protest was successful in elevating the UK’s response to climate change. 

By analysing the points mentioned in this article, it becomes possible to conclude that whilst there are some disadvantages to protesting, these are overwhelmed by the positives. In the end, standing up for what you believe in and fighting for change is always the most significant factor . When it comes to peaceful versus non-peaceful, keep in mind this lesser known quote from Martin Luther King; ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’. Whilst peaceful protests are often preferable as it limits injuries and damage, if these are not successful people must do whatever they can to ensure their voices are heard. Thus, the power to protest must be defended at all costs.

Bee Rose

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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