At the time of writing this piece, it is Monday the 30th of January and I'm about to go to the Emergency Demo in London in response to Trump's 'Muslim Ban' and Theresa May's refusal to condemn the action, or withdraw the invitation for Trump to come on a State Visit. I have been to a few protests in my time, and every time I go I experience a great deal of scepticism. People say 'what's the point' or 'you're wasting your time', and so I wanted to address the cynicism surrounding protest action, and show you why I believe in it so ardently.
Firstly, I admit you'd be right in saying protest doesn't always work. The first protest I ever went to was the Anti-Austerity march following the Conservative election in 2015. That march was attended by 250,000 people according to police estimate, but of course we still have austerity. The NHS is still being privatised under our noses, there are more people on food banks than before and vital social services are being slashed to pieces. If the aim of the protest was to stop austerity, then yeah okay, that didn't happen. But one protest is just one action, and protest has to be a repeat action. It has to be impossible to ignore, it has to be disruptive and make people take notice. It is about standing up for what's right and saying 'no, I don't agree and I will resist in whatever way I can'. In the coming years, we are going to need to protest again and again. We are going to need to diversify our protest methods, and amplify them so they cannot be ignored. One protest might not have an immediate effect, but many protests will. Nearly every big social change came out of protest and it took years; look at suffragettes, look at civil rights protesters. It's not like women had one protest, said 'hey we'd like to vote' and the men in power went 'yeah okay'. It took years of relentless campaigning. We are going to have to be prepared to be relentless.
Second, if you have the ability to protest and you believe in what the protest is for, then you have a responsibility to go for people who can't. I am in a position where it is relatively easy for me to protest. I live near London, I don't work long hours, I can afford travel. The people who will most likely be effected by austerity measures, or by immigration bans may not be in such a position. I have a privilege and so it is my responsibility to use it for good. This is a time when we have to choose between doing what is right and what is easy. It is easy not to go, and to sit around and do nothing while the world is in crisis, but now is not the time. If you have the ability to do what is right and stand up against racism, then you should do so. Now is the time to act, before things get even worse, and so I will.
Next, protesting helps keep you rejuvenated and politically engaged. I've written before about how there is such a constant stream of bad news now that it can make a person depressed. It makes you want to shut yourself away and never listen to the news again. There is an amazing atmosphere at a protest. You are surrounded by so many people who care, who want to make the world a better place, who believe in equality and compassion, and it makes you feel good again. Since the Women's March last weekend, I haven't felt depressed because of the news once. Sad, yes, but knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are going to stand up and say 'no' with me reminds me that I'm not alone and we are going to fight for what's right.
So I'm going to protest tonight. Theresa May is probably going to pay no attention. This is the woman who wanted to make a list of foreign workers after all, so her refusal to condemn the 'Muslim ban' wasn't exactly a big surprise. But I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't try. I protest so I can sleep at night, knowing I stood up and made my voice heard. Will you be able to do the same?