Your Protest Means Nothing

Emily Roper

Protests and rallies are no rarity to this world. Consider the protests in Colombia against the barbarity of bull fighting, calling for the constitutional court to make the practise illegal. Think of the protest marches in Venezuela against a government whose rule has seen severe economic decline in the country, or the protests this month against the continued presence of a US military base in northern Italy.

But your protest means nothing. A protest is meaningless in itself, made completely redundant in isolation. Your protest means nothing unless something happens next. A protest is a mechanism for change. It’s a catalyst for action. It’s a trigger for reform. Your protest means nothing and it’s what follows that makes it count.

January 21st 2017 was the day of the Women’s March, and the world witnessed an outstanding turnout in solidarity with America. Many were protesting against Donald Trump and his divisive rhetoric throughout the US presidential campaign, and many were highlighting the persistent issues of gender rights that have come to the fore throughout said campaign. It was a day filled with witty placards and cutting comments, many using humour to cut to the core of a patriarchal mindset and advocate women’s rights as human rights. An estimated 2.5 million individuals stood with America across the globe, and, quite honestly, if you weren’t there then you suffered from some serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those who are out of the loop). Topics of misogyny, the treatment of refugees, and healthcare were raised in rhyming chants and the sound of marching feet. These protests managed to demonstrate that we are still in dire need of feminism, that there are still issues ingrained in even those societies considered developed, and that persistence in pursuit of equality is still relevant. This cannot be action which stops at January 21st 2017.

The facts are inescapable: on Saturday 21st January we marched for gender equality and women’s rights globally. On Monday 23rd January, President Trump was pictured signing a policy to prevent all NGOs funded by the US federal government from carrying out abortion services across the world, forcing NGOs to either forego a major source of funding, or to stop providing a choice for women who feel they need the second chance that abortion offers. Whilst abortion is a controversial topic, the picture of Trump signing this policy betrays the heart of the problems that the Women’s March attempted to address: Trump, signing these documents, surrounded by seven other men. Alarm bells ringing yet? Two days after the world stood up and stood together for equal gender rights, that protest was already being concealed by legislation. The reproductive rights of women globally have been altered in an action that was overseen by a group of men. Whatever your standpoint on the issue of abortion, this imbalance cannot go unnoticed. Of course, men can sympathise with issues that affect the lives of women, and the simple fact that they were involved in these decisions does not make them misogynistic demons. But unless you have experienced living as someone not endowed with male privilege, should you really be the ones exclusively making those decisions? The proximity of this moment to the Women’s March demonstrates that such huge problems cannot be solved in the adrenaline of a one day protest – the fight goes on.

Organisers of the Women’s March are encouraging people to write to their senators, or Members of Parliament, and to articulate their voice to the people who make the decisions. Hold them accountable, and make them aware that there is a demand for equal gender rights. To share support on social media keeps the dialogue active, and to remain aware of changes in governmental policy keeps parliament accountable. Whether it is a march against governmental decisions to remove pro-democracy lawyers from practise in Hong Kong, or to raise awareness of the conditions and pay issues that caused nurses in France to strike towards the end of 2016, any ultimately successful campaign must be sustained. Your protest means nothing unless it lasts beyond the march.

A protest is not enough. Yes, there is a power in joining your voice with thousands of others, but history is not written by protests alone. Background noise will not protect your rights, and a series of rhyming chants will not drown out inequality. There was an absolute buzz on the day of the Women’s March, even amongst those who weren’t there. But where is the point in marching with 100,000 people in Trafalgar Square, if every other day of the year there is a woman being denied her rights to equal pay and no voice stands up for her? Where is the point in chanting in the streets, if on the other side of the road someone who identifies as non-binary is being harassed and no one steps in? Where is the point in raising your voice, if, behind closed doors, a child is being taught that it’s okay to ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ when you’re famous, and no other voice is telling him that respect for others is the most important virtue of all?

In all honesty, I thought twice about writing an article on the Women’s March. I thought about it more than twice. It felt over-done, over-analysed, and I was convinced that people would read it with a sigh: ‘not the Women’s March again’. Globally, the struggle for equal gender rights has been ongoing for years: the first country to allow women the vote was New Zealand in 1893, leading the way in an equal and representative democracy. We’re not there yet. It’s been a slog, and we’re still going to have to keep walking that walk. Yes, gender rights get talked about a lot. Yes, the Women’s March received a lot of publicity. Despite this, we need to continue to give it our attention. It is relevant, and it is pertinent, and it is of imminent concern. This affects you. We need this discourse to still be alive, and we need to keep this conversation open.

If this march is to have a legacy, don’t let it be the piles of discarded protest signs at the end of the day that are waiting to be recycled. If our voice is to have traction, we cannot let it be silenced by time and inaction. A protest is a powerful thing until it no longer exists. Your protest means nothing until it changes something. Don’t let your chant stop here.