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To Those Who Say That Protests And Petitions Are Useless

01/02/2017 17:30 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 17:31 GMT
Bastiaan Slabbers via Getty Images

Despite our fortune of living in a democracy, that does not mean that the public voice is always fully appreciated. Regardless of the number of people who might be involved in a public outcry, the government has no obligation to respond. Towards the end of 2015, the number of people who signed an online petition requesting a ban on Trump even entering the UK went well over the 100,000-figure required for a debate. The goal of this petition had a slim chance from the start of actually coming to fruition; it was clear when the subject was debated in Parliament that the Tory government had already made up its mind, and would not be persuaded by resistant members of the public. It was judged to be not practically viable to offend the potential future President of the United States in such an overt manner, and to possibly rule out any chances of a trade deal from the start.

Two years later another petition has been created, this time in relation to Trump being invited by the Queen for a state visit. This time the petition has accumulated well over a million signatures, and it is still climbing. Regardless of the amount of UK citizens who have participated in the petition, Theresa May initially came out firmly asserting that the state visit would go ahead. Like her predecessor, the Prime Minister was afraid of the potential negative impact on the economy if she were to upset Trump. The desperation to form alternative trade deals to substitute the single market has undermined everything else, even the consideration of what May has referred to as "British values" - which she herself perhaps somewhat hypocritically declared that she would not compromise when dealing with Trump. The recent anti-Trump protest, however, seems to have encouraged the Prime Minister to take a more reluctant stance. While it is currently not clear whether the state visit will ultimately go ahead, the protest seems to have had a positive impact by forcing May to reconsider. Despite the success of this protest, not all demonstrations have such an obvious and immediate impact.

The harsh reality is that petitions and protests might not always have a significant effect on the state of affairs in the short-term. When the Prime Minister has her mind completely set on one thing, and genuinely believes that what she is doing is the right thing for her country, then it can't be guaranteed that public resistance to a decision will change her mind. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't sign petitions and engage in protests. Various articles have been written recently, arguing that any form of public retaliation against the government is pointless. Those who adopt this mentality do not fully grasp the motivations of the people who protest. They don't only do it because they expect Theresa May to magically change her mind over night. They don't do it because they are naïve idealists who believe that members of the public have the ability to pass laws and change the Prime Minister's decisions. They do it because they feel the moral obligation to do something. The average member of the public might not have the ability to decide how we engage with Trump, but collectively people can illustrate to those who are experiencing discrimination that they do not support the Prime Minister's acquiescence to Trump's intolerance, and they can emphasise that our political figurehead is not always representative of public attitudes.

There have been times when protests have resulted in notable success. The suffragettes and suffragists of the early 20th century illustrated this when their efforts won women the vote in Britain, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) made their mark on history under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. alongside the efforts of other important black rights movements. The globally-spread Women's March, the day after Trump's inauguration, was the biggest protest in US history. In the present day the impact of this demonstration might remain unclear, but the impact of the fore mentioned demonstrations was not known immediately either. It took many years of tireless campaigning until the women's suffrage movement and the blacks rights movement showed any major signs of advancement. This might suggest that continuous anti-Trump and anti-prejudice demonstrations could have discernible and positive results, but the level of change that they implement will not necessarily be fully recognised in the near-future, and their full potential will certainly not be achieved if protestors stop now. The long-term impact of consistent and unrelenting protests will not just have a negative impact on Trump himself, but it will damage the very idea of meaningless prejudice and those who act as a mouthpiece for it.