The Student News Site of Christopher Newport University

The Captain's Log

The Captain's Log

The Student News Site of Christopher Newport University

The Captain's Log

The Captain's Log

We’re doing protests wrong

The good, the pointless and the absurd
Protest, photo from Unsplash

I find the right to peacefully assemble and petition our government a fundamental right, to any healthy democracy and I would never seek to attack these rights in any way. What inspired me to write this was the recent action of two French women who tried to vandalize the Mona Lisa, potentially destroying an irreplaceable part of world history and culture, in a protest against poverty and food insecurity.

I take issue with a wider proliferation of protests throughout society that I consider unhelpful and even self-destructive to the very causes they champion. My criticisms come down to a few main points: 1) the cause might be irrelevant to the average person, 2) the call to action is unrealistic, 3) that the conduct can lack control which builds resentment, and 4) that the act of protest can distract from actually supporting a cause.

The first point of contention I have with protests is that the causes brought to the public’s attention might be wholly irrelevant. For example, let’s say that I find that after watching a popular documentary about the imminent extinction of a rare breed of trout I get really pissed off! Let’s also say that this documentary has gotten quite a few other people on campus just as angry about it that we want to go and do something about it! Would it then make any sense for us to march up and down the great lawn to raise awareness about the trout population? I’d argue that, as a college student, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. This protest is, perhaps, reaching the wrong audience and this issue – however real it might be to those trout – is simply not at all relevant to more than a handful of people.

My second point relates to this idea of a call to action, which many would agree is an important thing to have in a protest or any other kind of appeal. Going back to the trout example, if the call to action is as simple as to spread awareness about the trout issue, then I’d have to admit this is going to have little to no actual effect on the problem; depending on the popularity of the issue it might be pointless. If it’s to specifically call for an end to overfishing, then what the heck are we doing on a college campus? Say, for argument, that this trout population is facing extinction off the shores of Iceland. Same idea here, if we already have nothing to do with the issue, promising to not do anything is a waste of breath.

Story continues below advertisement

My third critique is specific to the kind of protests that go out of their way to be disruptive, intrusive, or otherwise bother people due to a lack of control in their overall conduct. I’m talking about the people who vandalize art, occupy restaurants, or block traffic. More than anything, these kinds of protests only serve to frustrate people who might have been sympathetic to the cause. The disruption might even be more relevant to people than the subject matter of the protest – making people more likely to discuss the protest’s tactics rather than its cause. This sort of thing is completely out of touch, and only serves to alienate people from the cause these people claim to support.

Finally, let this last point address the actual point of protests, which I find do very little to advance the political change being sought out by the activists in question. It is not all that hard to protest in Western countries, because they enshrine protections to these fundamental rights of peaceful protests in their very constitutions. What hasn’t been talked about is just how many options there are to affect political change – from various forms of lobbying to participating in non-governmental organizations. People in the United States are greatly empowered to reach our government directly and if even this is ineffective for whatever reason, we are also empowered to do something about it ourselves. It’s not always easy to do these things, but at some point they become the necessary work that activism should lead you towards – not the picket line.

If there’s anything to take away from this entire argument, it’s this: protests are a form of expression and should be the product of strong feelings across society towards a shared goal. Everything that falls outside of this is either going to range from ineffective to self-destructive behaviors that don’t advance the intended cause. We’re going to see some things in the world that leave us outraged, and it’s important to keep your wits about you when putting on your activist hat.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Captain's Log

Your donation will support the student journalists of Christopher Newport University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Cameron Tomaino, Copy Editor
Donate to The Captain's Log

Comments (0)

All The Captain's Log Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *