Protest Still Matters

January 19, 2017

Over the last few months, my group of friends has spent a lot of time talking about active citizenship and participating in protest activities. I met my friend Heather for breakfast this morning; we celebrated International Women’s Day with eggs and bacon, too many cups of coffee and a discussion of protests and rallies.

My friend group has been finding ways to fit our activism into our lives; we all strongly believe that active citizenship requires taking a stand on the issues in which we believe. It’s certainly not convenient and one of my saddest memories from the evening of the American election was the results coming in and my friend turning to me, pouring more wine into our glasses and saying how we were all going to have to renew our efforts to build a society we were proud of.

I’ve written before about the importance of making activism part of your daily life, regardless of what side you’re on. My activism, my feminism, my efforts as an ally, bleed into all of my conversations, each of my editorials and the way I design. We’re often discouraged from using our voices or speaking out; there are only limited socially acceptable and easily accessible ways to voice our ideas. They’re also quite highly regulated; if you want to express yourself in other ways it’s often a lot harder and you face a lot of opposition, even from your own self. What protests usually do incredibly well is bring a broad spectrum of voices together in creative and different ways.

One of the things I’ve adored over the few months is seeing the clever and funny protest signs people create; from pink knitted pussy hats to acerbic slogans, there has been no shortage of statements. The signs we carry and way we dress for protests is poignant and creative, regardless of what side we’re on.

I find opposition to protest challenging – counter-protest or disagreement is great and I think we need to have a twosided discourse – I am always struck by people responding negatively to protests or rallies, or events like Pride parades. Particularly when it’s a complaint about it being disruptive! Of course, I understand that interruptions can be inconvenient but the moments or hour or disruption you experience is fairly miniscule compared to the issues that event is protesting or supporting.

If you’re feeling resentful of these interruptions, I challenge you to imagine how disruptive fear, anxiety, and anger can be in someone’s life. Perhaps the noise or travel rerouting inconvenienced you but the hateful things that they’re trying to cry out against disrupts those people at all times.

Heather is one of the bravest women I know. And yet, she is still afraid when walking down the street at night, still hesitant to put her arm around her girlfriend in public.

We sipped our coffee and joked about being scared while walking down the street. Suddenly serious, she set down her cup and reflected more solemnly, “What do you think about when you’re not afraid? I’d really like to know. When you’re walking down the street late at night and – this applies to many categories and not just queers, not just women, not just people of colour – when you’re walking down the street at night, on your way home from the train station, what are you thinking about when you’re not afraid about the long walk home? I have no idea because I’m making sure that all the street lamps are on, shoulder checking, making sure no one’s in the parking lots. I’m keeping an eye on all the people who are ahead of me. Where are the breaks in the fence where people can come through? Am I going to be able to cross the street? It’s not about ‘is there pizza in the fridge, what’s on television.’ Even the songs that are stuck in my head are gone.”

Protest and parades are an opportunity to come together and share energy and discussion. It’s the opposite of walking down the street late at night and being scared. It’s thinking about and doing whatever you want because there is absolutely no fear at that time. It’s catharsis. It’s what living without fear looks like – a beautiful celebration!

– Danielle S. Fuechtmann, Editor-in-Chief