The final months of 2016 have seen waves of protest wash over all corners of the U.S. From anti-Trump demonstrations across the country to the ongoing and increasingly volatile protest at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, the discontent of the masses shows no sign of retreating into obscurity.
Yesterday, journalist and activist Shaun King launched what he’s dubbed “the Injustice Boycott,” which seeks to target cities and companies that support, or turn a blind eye to, police brutality and other forms of social injustice. Now San Francisco, New York and Standing Rock, North Dakota have all found themselves on the bad side of more than 200,000 boycotters.
Though this boycott represents a solid step in the right direction in the fight against institutionalized racism, it may not go far enough. Change in our institutions, by and large, must come from the institutions themselves.
As a concept, it’s not exciting and it’s definitely not satisfying to hear. Often those who are affected most by injustice, those who want change the most, feel spurned by the system, and justifiably so. When the system is built to enforce a racially-motivated power structure, and you find yourself at the bottom of that structure, it is counterintuitive to think that the very system that perpetuates oppression will be the source of justice.
But if the goal is to create a more equitable system, pressure alone — say, the kind of pressure created by protest and demonstration — is insufficient.
As an example, let’s look at Occupy Wall Street. For one month in 2011, the “99 percent” had a voice and they would be heard. The massive New York demonstration dominated the news and satellite occupations cropped up around the country. But in the five years since, the Occupy movement has essentially disappeared, and any political clout it may have had at the time has evaporated.
Now, instead of seeing genuine change to a Wall Street system that is arguably as flawed as it was eight years ago, we have those who look back at Occupy and laugh. And it’s not just those on the left either. The right has had a field day with the protests seen over the last five years, and while the criticism it levels is often more concerned with mockery than debate and dialogue, it’s increasingly a criticism that resonates with middle America.
First, we must recognize that protest is valuable. It is arguably one of the most valuable and accessible ways in which citizens can voice their concerns and begin to effect change in their society. But it’s also just the beginning. If there is no action, no result of these protests, then there it becomes little more than yelling.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s is a perfect illustration of the necessary marriage of protest and conventional legislative change. The protests orchestrated by Martin Luther King Jr., served to bring attention to the cause, to generate media attention and sympathy from viewers. But the strategy did not stop there. At the end of the day, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were social changes that were enacted through legislation, within the governmental and judicial systems that needed to be altered.
If you want to see a change in society, take steps to make that change happen. Take to the streets and join protests that are meaningful to you. But don’t stop there. Going to a protest and Instagramming your angrily-worded sign is not, when all is said and done, going to accomplish anything. Protest is nothing without results to show for it. True change takes work, dedication and organization. Please, join the Injustice Boycott, but stick to it. Get involved in the efforts of local grassroots organizations like PLAN. Whatever you do, just do something.
To quote Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize.”
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