Every time I go to a protest, without fail, I cry my eyes out. Anytime I post a picture on Facebook from a march, you can guarantee that there were tears running down my face as I took it.
See, I have always been a sucker for camaraderie. You know that scene at the end of Dead Poets Society, where all the boys get up on their desks in solidarity with Mr. Keating as he’s leaving? That part gives me chills every time I see it, and I’ve seen that movie a million times by now.
What I’m trying to say here is that I know more than anyone how moving it can be when people rise up for a greater cause, especially when they do it together. I’ve seen it up close many times. And I have seen it make change.
When people begin protesting, others are quick to jump on and ask what good a protest is going to do. What is a big group of angry people going to do about anything?
The answer: everything.
Protests might seem like a small and inconsequential thing to do from the outside, but every big protest that is worth its salt gets attention. It gets the eyes of the country and the hearts of the nation. Those that have their heads in the sand are able to finally be awakened to the problems going on, they’re finally able to see the reality. What better way to solve a problem than to bring everyone’s attention to it?
Above all, protests bring people together. They bring groups of people who are all afraid and upset into the same vicinity where they can comfort each other and do their best to make change. Protests give them a place to express their fear and their anger for the world they live in and encourage them to keep fighting.
Protests are also a great place to go to find out what more you can do for a cause: which organizations to support, which state senators to harrang on the phone.
I was lucky enough to attend the second annual Women’s March and, walking into the large crowd of pink crammed into Grant Park, I immediately felt bolstered. After a few long and arduous years of keeping up with the news and watching my country fall apart, the dehumanization of immigrants and women, and the mind-boggling stupidity of our very own Commander-in-Chief, protesting with my fellow worried citizens encouraged me to keep fighting.
It was an honor to be able to march down Michigan Avenue with all of the other people making change in my world. We were a force to be reckoned with, chanting things like “Vote Them Out!” and singing along to “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor from a portable speaker.
I have never felt more empowered than I did at that moment.
I found out later that we had been 300,000 people strong.
A few short months later, I was able to march in a last-minute gun reform protest in Federal Plaza. The protest was organized by high school students in the Chicagoland area and the majority of the marchers were teachers and students. There were a lot of younger kids there too, the youngest I’ve ever seen at a protest like that one.
Standing in that group with hundreds of other students who knew what it was to have to participate in an intruder drill was sobering. Others who knew what it was to hear the drill announcement over the intercom, collectively roll our eyes and then have to scrunch up against the wall out of view of the door while our teachers turned the lock and shut out the lights. Students who remember the days when intruder drills would be practiced with quiet whispering and stifled snickers, each of us waiting impatiently for the Principal’s announcement so we could end the drill and finish math class.
Other students who knew just as well as I do that after each mass shooting we saw, each time we watched on TV while mothers wept over their dead kids and students sobbed over their lost classmates, the drills began to feel less and less like drills.
Other students, like me, who had to begin facing the possibility of a shooting in their own schools. What would they text their mother to say goodbye? Would they try to be a hero and tackle the shooter? Would they even be able to?
All of us at that protest knew how important it was to fight. And standing there with them helped me to realize that I wasn’t alone in my fear and my anger.
I will never forget the little girl who was standing next to me, dressed all in pink and waving a little American flag her mom had given her.
She couldn’t have been more than 5 years old.
I felt tears spring to my eyes as I watched her jump around while we chanted, the biggest smile on her face, and hoped with all I had that we could give her, and all the other children like her, a different world. Different from the one we’d found ourselves in where children were mass murdered in their classrooms once a month.
It was completely mind-blowing to be able to march for my own and others’ safety surrounded by people of all ages. It gave me hope.
In short, protests might not seem like much. Maybe, in the end, it IS just a big group of angry people. But in the grand scheme of things, they make all the difference.
They can inspire and rally and encourage and lead and most importantly they can make change.
Every revolution begins somewhere, why not in the streets with signs and feet itching to march?