Power of protests
In the In-Focus section, The Patriot takes a closer look at topics that affect the school community. The articles investigate issues by conducting in-depth interviews, extending research outside JC, and exploring multiple angles of a story.
February 17, 2017
Peaceful protesters call for change
Leaning against metal barriers, Derek Cassidy is awestruck by the immense crowds and booming chants blossoming around him at nine in the morning. For a while, he simply watches hundreds of people walk by and listens to their repetitive words.
One chant, “Show me what democracy looks like,” rises up sporadically from the crowds. Immediately, in a response even louder than the initial call, other protesters yell back, “This is what democracy looks like!”
Cassidy, an alias to preserve the anonymity of a teacher, attended the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. According to Cassidy, he marched in place of his daughter, who was unable to attend the protest.
For Cassidy, the Women’s March represented a call for change, rather than a manifestation of various complaints. “It was a march for women, technically not against certain individuals. It was for women, immigrants, LGBTQ – all groups that are marginalized and need to be heard,” he said.
Though Cassidy went to a Women’s March prepared for conflict, his experience was strictly a positive one. “I read all sorts of tips like, ‘don’t engage,’ or ‘have a bandana with you in case of tear gas,’” Cassidy said. “I was prepared for things to go wrong, but there were 500,000 people, and no one was arrested.”
Students also attended the Women’s March including senior Sarah Meyerl, who took part in a sister march in Trenton, N.J., hoping to inspire change in the community, particularly for LGBTQ rights. “Women aren’t as equal as men. We have more rights than we did centuries ago, but we aren’t equal yet,” Meyerl said. Like Cassidy, she did not experience any violence while at the march.
Other members of the community peacefully protested for different causes. Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication Joseph Schuberth, for example, attended the March for Life on Friday, Jan. 27 with the Respect Life Club, which he moderates.
Schuberth was taken aback by the number of people who attended the March for Life. “It’s amazing to see people both behind you and in front of you as far as you can see,” he said.
“It’s hopeful, too, to see lots of young people trying to make a difference,” he said. For Schuberth, the March for Life is particularly meaningful because his grandmother, who had six children and now has 10 grandchildren, decided not to terminate a potentially dangerous pregnancy.
According to sophomore Emma Rash, a member of the Respect Life Club, the atmosphere at the march was also one of solidarity and love. “The atmosphere at March for Life was very moving. There were people there who regretted getting abortions, and there were people giving hugs,” Rash said. “I think I will definitely protest again in the future and will probably attend the same event next year.”
Though the JC protesters used nonviolent tactics in order to spread their messages, they recognize that coverage of violent protests gives their activism a bad rep. Schuberth agrees that using violence diminishes the effect of a protest. “[Protesting] is a vehicle to make your voice heard. If you choose violence, no one will listen,” he said.
However, according a recent survey, only 45 percent of students believe peaceful protests are actually effective, and just five percent believe that violent protests are effective.
Members of the community have seen firsthand how violent protests can fail. Science teacher Anthony Davidson was affected by the violent Baltimore riots in April 2015, as he lives just 20 blocks away from the main source of violence.
He considers public awareness of protests to be a double-edged sword. “It’s kind of a Catch-22. Peaceful protests don’t always get the coverage they deserve, but violent or online protests don’t have as much of an effect,” he said.
Despite students’ skepticism toward peaceful protests, non-violent protests have seen success in the past with advocates like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. King’s belief that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word” still guides protesters like Cassidy today.
Cassidy firmly believes that peaceful protests create a more powerful and convincing voice than violent protests. “Nonviolence is more effective than violence. You have more chance of getting people to notice and listen that way. You give people a reason to negate what you are saying when you use violence,” Cassidy said.
Regardless of their differing political views, both Schuberth and Cassidy believe that protesting alone is not enough to make a difference. “[Protesting] is an effective way to get voices heard, but it does have to be followed up with actions,” Schuberth said.
Though Cassidy does not know if the protests will ultimately make a difference in society, he admits that the actions they stand for are the only way to bring about change. “If people just go home and show pictures, it was just a nice walk in the park,” he said. “If you don’t do anything and don’t say anything, nothing changes.”
Social media activists stay silent
Exhausted but exhilarated, senior Sarah Meyerl returns from the Women’s March she attended in Trenton, N.J., and goes on Twitter to see what the rest of the world has been saying. Though she sees both positive and negative reactions, she notices that many of the famous proponents for the march never actually attended one themselves.
According to Meyerl, these people often profess their beliefs for a certain action online, but they do not help to advance the cause in real life.
“I see [exclusively online protesting] more with celebrities like Taylor Swift than everyday people. She calls herself a feminist and has a whole girl group posse, but she doesn’t go out and do anything. She just tweeted about it,” Meyerl said.
However, she notes that the use of social media can, in some cases, help protesters to spread their ideas. “I think the effectiveness of social media can depend on the person,” Meyerl said. “If someone tweets but then also goes out and does something, then it can help raise awareness. If they just tweet about it but don’t do anything, nothing will change.”
Junior Karson Langrehr believes that while social media, in general, can expand a protest’s message more effectively, many people use it for “fake activism.” In other words, they promote ideas online without working for change in real life.
This concept is known as “slactivism,” which the Washington Post describes as forms of advocacy that “pose a minimal cost to participants.” This could include posting for a cause on social media or buying an item that donates part of the proceeds to a charity or organization.
“It’s sad that people do things like that for social media when they could actually go make a change instead of trying to impress their followers,” Langrehr said.
Social studies teacher Darrion Siler agrees with Meyerl that social media allows a conceptto spread to all people. “The use of social media has galvanized people and kept crowds fluid. It has made it easier to spread ideas and organize marchers,” he said.
However, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication Joseph Schuberth noted that social media is not necessarily the most effective way to actually change someone’s viewpoint because it does not involve the “relationship and ability for a back-and-forth” conversation.
For Langrehr, social media presents an opportunity to show her ideas, but it does not define the extents of her protesting. “I fill my profiles with things I believe in but also try to find opportunities to actually participate in activism,” she said.
Paige Alban and Ianna Pirozzi are In-Focus Editors for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.