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Why your protest isn’t working

Let me say something very clearly: protests do not change anything.

Let me say that again, in case you didn’t catch it: protests do not change anything.

A few weeks following the horrific Parkland shooting, my Instragram feed was flooded with photographs.

Photo credit: Kylie Harris

Photos of flashy pearly whites.

Photos of heads thrown back in laughter.

Photos of hair flowing carefree in the wind.

Photos of joy.

All of these photographs were poised, edited and purposeful. I can imagine my Instagram “friends” gathering around the photograph on an iPhone screen, forming a tight-knit semi-circle, necks craning forward while they debated whether “Amaro” or “Valencia” looked better.

“Are you sure you don’t like this one better?” one would say.

“I think the lighting looks best in this one,” another would chime in.

I imagine they worried about whether their smile was big enough, if they looked skinny enough or if their photo would be “liked” enough, but I wonder if they worried about how ironic it was, to smile and laugh and post a picture while holding signs that read, “Not one more life,” and “Keep our children safe” and “We the people demand gun reform.”

I imagine while they were caught up in the adrenaline rush of posting a photograph on Instagram, they forgot children dying from gun violence and families torn apart was not a joyous matter.

I imagine they forgot that the Parkland shooting was not a photo op.

Our nation’s revolutionary foundation is falling apart, and I assure you, it scares me as much as it scares you. Americans are riddled with anxiety, living in poverty and suffering from tremendous health issues, all while trying to keep afloat in a world that demands more time, money and more attention than we can give.

We are divided politically, religiously, socially, economically, sexually, racially and emotionally.

We are broken, we are downtrodden, we are chained.

I understand these issues demand change. But what I can’t understand is why Americans, when sensing imminent destruction, head to their local JoAnn’s and stock up on poster board and glitter. This isn’t a high school student council election, and your smiling Instragram post won’t help you win class president.

You want to end school shootings? Break the glass ceiling? Stop racial profiling? Conquer injustice and poverty? Great, so do I.

But when you choose to battle these ever-present issues, did you donate, volunteer, educate, uplift or inspire? Or did you take a knee, use some glitter and post a perfect picture on Instagram of you “fighting the man?”

Showing up to a protest uneducated and unmotivated does not bring about change. Marching because a friend or sibling or peer pressured you into it doesn’t fix any problem. It never has.

And selfies don’t change anything either. Sorry to break it to you.

Change only occurs when we consciously decide to become politically active, and political activism involves much more than marching for a few hours on a Saturday morning.

According to The New Yorker, in 2015, Marxist-inspired thinkers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams published a book titled, “Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work” in which they examined “the power of marches, protests and other acts of what they call ‘folk politics.”

Srnicek and Williams believe “folk politics” simplifies complex political problems down to a human scale, which ignores “the structural nature of problems in a modern world.”

Protests, to Srenicek and WIlliams, are “more of a habit than a solution” and a “general inability to systematically think about change.”

One of Srenicek’s and Williams’ claims is that protests, at best, have mixed success in the present day.

Srenicek and Willams wrote, “Their messages are mangled by an unsympathetic media smitten by images of property destruction — assuming that the media even acknowledges a form of contention that has become increasingly repetitive and boring.”

Similarly, a 2011 Harvard study, titled “Do Political Protests Matter? Evidence from the Tea Party Movement,” found that protesting enacts little to no change. However, protests can influence people to become politically active. The study found it was the political activism, not the protests themselves, that induced change.

Photo credit: Kylie Harris

It might seem confusing that our nation’s rich history of successful protesting did not carry over to our generation. When Martin Luther King Jr. marched, he was poised, eloquent and determined. He was educated, uplifting and inspiring.

His march on Washington DC was not vulgar, vicious or violent. He delivered an historic speech, motivating thousands. When we march, are we upholding King’s values?

King’s march on Washington was a culmination of vigilant, calculated work toward destroying segregation. He led thoughtful, peaceful boycotts and encouraged other to demonstrate compassion, even in times of distress.

We recognize King as the man who won the battle against segregation. He is a champion and a hero. He succeeded because of his insight regarding a systematic American problem, which he, in turn, broke down systematically and intelligently.

King used all forms of peaceful political activism to create change. He did not hold up a poster board and believe everything would be fixed. He performed surgery on a dying America, he didn’t slap a bandaid on her.

Please reconsider your actions.

Your posters and your slogans and your catchy chants aren’t going to do anything. Politicians aren’t going to look down on you from Capitol Hill while you’re taking a selfie and suddenly experience a change of heart. You might consider educating yourself on criminal violence and start a letter writing campaign to your local leaders.

Your knitted vagina hats aren’t going to give women a raise. You might reconsider using the time you spent knitting to uplift and inspire the women around you to respect themselves and demand equal treatment from their spouses, bosses and male counterparts.

Your violent screams in the streets won’t impeach Trump. You might consider dutifully researching what qualifies impeachment and spreading the word. You might even consider starting a petition when you find enough evidence. A broken window doesn’t remove Trump from office. Nor does screaming or using profanity on Twitter.

Your black dresses on the red carpet won’t stop sexual assault. You might consider donating and volunteering to women’s shelters in your area. The women’s shelter in Ogden is always in need of volunteers, and I know the children staying there would appreciate new clothes and toys. I also know their mothers deserve much-needed compassion.

Re-posting photo after photo on Facebook of white privilege dominating our country won’t eliminate segregation. You might consider working at nonprofit organizations like the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club, both of whom share a common goal of providing children and families of all socioeconomic background and ethnicities with the chance to succeed. Programs like these are often chronically understaffed.

You’d probably take a paycut to work there, but I never said change was easy.

When we experience or hear about injustice, our gut reaction is to be dramatic, make a scene or roar in outrage, because that’s how we feel. We react emotionally, not systematically, as Srenieck and Williams suggested we should. We feel the need to protest, we don’t think about how our actions will or will not induce change.

And for some people, protesting is an easy way to check a box for being a good person. Unfortunately, protesting does not enable the change we hope for.

Change isn’t easy, and it needs to be earned. We need to create a solid foundation for the change we wish to see to prevent it from crumbling when trials and hardships arise.

So you should fight for change.

You should volunteer for change.

You should donate for change.

You should educate yourself and other for change.

You should vote for change.

You should be a beacon for change.

But please, don’t singularly protest and expect anything to change.

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