Opinion: Protest with purpose, not perception
This month has been a big moth for protest — not just here in the U.S., but around the world. Many were concerned with the actions of President Donald Trump and his outlooks on the environment, foreign affairs and social issues.
Some protests, such as the Women’s March on Jan. 20, called to attention the record number of protesters filling the streets and voicing their discontent over an insensitive, bombastic and ill-equipped president. They reminded the public about his scandalous statements from leaked phone calls and social media, his ignorance to the issues that people of color, non-Christians or undocumented children face and the role of women in politics being overshadowed by a male majority.
All in all, the Women’s March was a fantastic effort that gained great public recognition — and ended there. No sooner had the one day long protests ended, the fire of outrage reverted to a simmer and the streets where the protests took place were seen lined with abandoned signs and trinkets such as hats, shirts and bracelets.
It is often disappointing to see passionate protests tossed to the side, while those who march revert to armchair politics and social media virtue-signaling. The main failure of protests like the Women’s March are that they are over-generalized, face significant infighting and lack a structure by which goals or demands can be promised. It was the real-life version of a hashtag on Twitter.
For example, one point of contention was the speakers representing the event. At the first Women’s March in 2017, Madonna stated that she had the urge to “blow up the White House,” warranting an inquiry from the Secret Service. Another speaker, Linda Sarsour, was criticized for posts on Twitter saying “I wish I could take their vaginas away” in regard to Ayaan Hirsi Ali — a feminist critic of Muslim extremism and female genital mutilation — and Brigitte Gabriel, a staunch conservative critic of Islam and a survivor of the Lebanese Civil War.
Another point of contention was the friction between the transgender community and women of color towards Caucasian marchers. The heavy use of “p***y”-related regalia and slogans alienated transwomen, as they felt separate from the rest of the protestors. This genitalia-focused apparel was meant to be an act of defiance against Trump’s infamous quote about grabbing women where and when he pleased because of his notoriety. However, this apparel was damaging to public perception as it appeared to boil women down solely to their reproductive plumbing, and in the process made transwomen feel as if they couldn’t sympathize with other women — because they “weren’t really women” in the eyes of trans-exclusionary feminists. Friction from women of color originated from election-night statistics revealing that white women made a large amount of Trump’s fanbase, and the lack of recognition on the part of white activists seem to fly in the face of Black Lives Matter-associated protestors.
One final note about this protest: If there was a “Men’s March” where men wore large penile hats, chanted “hands off my testicles” and made vague sentiments about how men need to become more empowered in the face of “toxic femininity” — off-putting imagery aside — I would detest the idea that these men were somehow speaking on my behalf. It would be poor optics at its finest.
My hope for protest is not completely lost. One such ongoing protest is against the Tacoma liquified natural gas storage plant. Groups such as 350 Tacoma, the Puget Water Warriors and many members of the Puyallup Tribe are actively protesting the construction of a liquified natural gas plant due to significant legal and environmental reasons.
It should be said that I personally question some of the actions taken by these groups to get attention — such as chaining themselves to industrial equipment or construction cranes — as well as some of the claims they have made about the plant. However, their claims to Native American land treaty violations as well as legitimate environmental concerns have given proof of their legitimacy when it comes to addressing this issue. They have been direct in confronting members of the Tacoma City Council and their representatives in D.C. as well as Olympia, and have held near constant protests since the announcement to construct the LNG plant. They have a clear message and have well-constructed methods of gaining support as well as visibility, and remain resolute in the face of ongoing construction.
In short, the Women’s March represented the worst stereotypical qualities of women when it comes to political activism: overwhelming and alienating gynocentric imagery, internal backbiting and a wishy-washy agenda that’s too vague or too overreaching to be functional, let alone capable of being executed. Just because you say, “we need to close the wage gap/employ more women/have better representation” doesn’t mean someone will hear you and do the work for you. Setting agendas — with timelines, important representatives or persons to contact, etc. — usually helps. Follow through with your statements — your protest shouldn’t just be a protest. It should be consistent action. Take a page from those who are currently protesting the LNG plant in Tacoma — stay clear, stay strong, stay relevant and stay organized. “Slacktivism” has no benefit if you’re pushing for a cause, but maintaining an attitude of constant protest and personally acquainting yourself with policy makers at the local level can send big shockwaves upward.
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