Before Trump’s inauguration, earth-shattering protests in the West were thought to be a thing of the past, relegated to the annals of 20th century history. But the last five weeks have rendered this assumption ridiculous – every morning we wake up to news stories that confirm the opposite: the women’s and immigrant rallies and strikes, high school walkouts, student protests, as well as thousands disrupting congressional town hall meetings in every corner of the country. The question on many people’s lips, however, is ‘what will these protests achieve?’ Taking a cursory glance at what they’ve already affected can shed some light on the answer: Trump’s Muslim Ban has become a dead letter due to the enormous protests which shut down airports across the country, after which a number of judges issued stays on his executive order.
It is the mass protests, the disruptions to everyday life, the strikes and promise of more strikes that have forced even Republican congressmen, judges and generals to conscience impeaching Trump or disobeying his executive orders. They fear mass protests, and the chaos they induce, far more than Trump’s overreaching policies. Let’s not forget that virtually every politician, judge and general; the Wall Street bankers and capitalists, would have been happy to see business continue as usual after Trump’s election. They cautioned the population to ‘give Trump a chance’, and weren’t altogether unhappy with a series of his pro-business proposals, including tax cuts to the rich, increased military spending, and cuts to social services.
Strikes, which would represent a serious escalation of the movement, have the capacity to destroy Trump’s agenda altogether. Nothing gets done in society without workers carrying it out: have fun trying to build a wall, create a ‘Muslim registry’, deport immigrants, outlaw abortions, or overhaul the healthcare system when working people refuse to carry out these measures. Moreover, the Trump administration could face the prospect of annihilation if millions of workers acted to bring the economy to a grinding halt through general strikes.
But mass protest have a significance beyond this. In normal life, ordinary people are systematically denied the ability to shape society or have our voices heard. There is no real discussion while the media is controlled by a minority at the top. And there is no real democracy while almost every decision about society is made by unelected bureaucrats and capitalists (the Fair Work decision to slash penalty rates in Australia is a case in point). Mass protests, even if they immediately ‘achieve nothing’; give confidence to the millions who want real change. They allow us to organise ourselves for future action, and to debate and discuss ideas which challenge the system. They prove to masses of disaffected people, who might otherwise have felt atomized, isolated and powerless, that there are other millions like them who want to fight for a better world. That is a powerful thing, and it might be the first step in actually doing so.
Words by Emma Norton
Protesting in First World countries has become so common that their effectiveness has significantly dwindled. Even when a protest is made a media spectacle it no doubt fizzles out within a few weeks. They have become so trivial that it is very easy for the public to overlook new causes, making them redundant. Originally protests were in the form of strikes, this worked because they interfered with the economy and this forced those targeted to take notice. As protests now tend not to be from any specific industry there isn’t much motivation to take them seriously (unless it’s coming up to an election and political parties are scrambling for votes).
There is a very good reason protesters are hardly listened to. Although you may personally support one cause, it is highly unlikely that you agree with every protest group, as many contradict each other. On controversial issues, such as abortion, there are usually protest groups on both sides and the outcome is dependent on the views of the elected government, not who makes the most banners. In a democracy, not everyone will be satisfied with the way the country is run because you simply can’t please everyone. Protests are usually run by a minority group and although sometimes they can have important issues to bring up, they could just as easily be pushing for things the majority are against. Imagine the mayhem if every protest group got their way, our legal system would be constantly flipping back and forth.
Recently in the US anti-Trump protests have even turned violent with businesses and random citizens’ vehicles being vandalised. When protesters turn violent they tarnish their own cause by being written off as extremists and criminals. They are more likely to lead to injured civilians, damaged property and wasted money on extensive law enforcement then actually create change. A similar issue occurs when protesters act out in ways in which the public deem inappropriate or extreme, such as gluing yourself to Parliament House or setting your arm in cement. These sorts of actions lead onlookers to dismiss the cause as the supporters appear irrational.
Protesting, in this day and age, is basically just a way of publicly complaining and this alone does not enact change. Nothing can be fixed until there is a viable solution, simply complaining about it does not solve anything. A more successful way to enact change would be to create a better alternative and work with the right people to implement it. If you want to really make a difference, find a job in that industry, make or join a political party or start up an organisation that can actually do something about it. Create an answer instead of a complaint and people will be more willing to listen. Working within the systems you wish to change, such as the government, and using platforms like social media is a more likely way to be noticed than standing in the streets waving around a piece of paper.
Words by Kelly Dunn
Art by Harry Peter Sanderson
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 2 STOP.