June 17, 2019

Peaceful Protests Are Democracy In Action

March 4, 2017

Shortly after a date was set for the Women's March on Washington, I started making plans to attend. Despite my aversion to crowds, I felt driven to participate, and as I told my husband, “I need to be counted. I need to be a pinpoint in the aerial photos documenting the event.”

I didn't feel compelled to protest against our new president, but rather to demonstrate for issues that are important to me as a woman and mother. Reproductive rights and access to women's healthcare continue to be restricted; Roe v. Wade is in danger of being repealed with at least a couple of Supreme Court appointments in the balance. Women still do not earn the same as men for identical work; we continue to be sexually harassed and discriminated against; and we don't have equal representation in government or in the major corporations that are pulling its strings.

For me, the experience of marching was almost religious. Over a half million of us, wrapped in solidarity and support, came together for a common cause –  publicly demanding that those in power account for their actions and rectify the problems facing women, especially the poor and marginalized. At a time when more and more of us feel isolated, I had an overwhelming sense of purpose and belonging.

Eye contact, smiles, meaningful conversation and connection were happening all around me. I wore my pussy hat as a badge of honor, and being a tiny part of the massive horde of pink filled my heart with pride. Police officers stationed along our route seemed proud to be part of his historic event as well – they were actively engaged by taking photos for marchers, giving us encouragement, and updating us on other marches happening around the world. It was calm, peaceful and inspiring.

Afterwards, I was surprised by the number of people who simply didn't get the point. “Isn’t it wrong to protest the result of a lawful election?” was the question of confusion. Even our president, in his very first post-inauguration tweet, attacked “professional protesters” who came out after we “just had a very open and successful presidential election.” The administration, along with the media outlets that support it, were treating protesters like sore losers, paid operatives or even criminals.

This anti-protest mentality supposes that the only way to participate in politics is to cast a ballot. Well, the marchers did vote. Their candidate didn't win the election, but nonetheless, they felt obliged to continue fighting for justice and for the issues that are important to them moving forward. They wanted their voices heard, and like me, they wanted to be counted.

Following the event, an old high school friend who happens to be a conservative white male accusingly asked, “How have you specifically been oppressed, what specific rights have been taken away from you, and when exactly did it happen?” Like many people in a position of privilege, he doesn't think these issues are a problem because they don't affect him personally.

I explained that even if I did provide him with a list of specific rights that have been violated or taken away, it wouldn't matter. We still don't have an Equal Rights Amendment and any complaint I bring forward is completely null. The amendment would have ensured that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Right now, in a country where “all men are created equal,” the Supreme Court is left with little legal recourse for sex discrimination claims.

So, even though I don't have equal rights under the law, as a U.S. Citizen, my first amendment right allows me to “peaceably... assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Peaceful assembly is as important a democratic institution as are elections. Marches promote positive social change and the advancement of human rights, encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry, and strengthen our representative democracy by allowing direct participation in public affairs.

Protests are also effective. They attach real faces and real voices to a cause. Everyone notices a protest – the politicians, the press, and the public. They have played a major role in abolishing slavery, preventing the exploitation of labor, ending wars, and extending rights to women and minorities.

Lastly, demonstrating is a powerful antidote for hopelessness and despair. The choice to demonstrate is the choice to take control of our body, our time, and our words – and in doing so, to reclaim the ability to see a future.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed it best: “The women's march... never have I seen such a demonstration both in the numbers and the rapport of the people in that crowd. There was no violence, it was orderly. So yes, we are not experiencing the best of times, but there is hope we will see a better day.”

Christie Minervini owns Sanctuary Handcrafted Gifts in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, and is passionate about gender equality, community development, and ending homelessness.


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