Is there any practical value in mass protest?

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17 January
08:56
Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
20 January
10:29

Absolutely. Mass protest shows a real depth of feeling among the people who participate. It also gives those who are not normally engaged the means to get involved. It recognises the inter-connectedness of our world, and demonstrates the value of solidarity. And it communicates a real message to governments about the way people are thinking.

For example what the Women’s March is doing across a variety of countries is reasserting our value system. It’s saying that all of us have rights that should be promoted and protected. It’s not just about women’s rights, either. It’s about pushing back against some of the spaces that have been opening for racism and religious hatred.

Mass protest is there to reassert our value system with governments – our own and those internationally – to say you are our representatives, you don’t govern us, and we believe in a value system that you have to promote. You have to be very clear about your goal, messaging, and the impact you want. Protests can also help you make alliances, and that’s really important, as it requires a broad spectrum of support to achieve systemic change. I think you have to be very focused and persistent as campaigning can sometimes take a long time to achieve its goals, and adaptations have to be made along the way.

“Mass protest is there to reassert our value system… to say you are our representatives, you don’t govern us, and we believe in a value system that you have to promote.”

Governments should promote the best interests of all its citizens and those in positions of power need to be held accountable. It’s important to keep the dialogue going and ensure our voices are heard so our wishes can be reflected in the laws that govern us. Sometimes you have to make a strong statement of your values, even if there isn’t a high profile or sustained campaign elsewhere.

Mass protest also helps to publicise an issue. The media often covers big marches and this raises public awareness about the event that is happening and the reasons behind it. The march which took place in London against the Iraq War cast a long shadow over Tony Blair and the Labour Government for years afterwards. And the Poll Tax marches had a lasting impact on the Tory Party. When people have the energy, the commitment and the motivation to get out on the streets, it really shows those in power that these are things they need to be aware of.

People don’t disrupt their daily lives, travel across the country and march in the cold unless they feel very strongly about an issue. That depth of feeling is something that stays with people for a long time. Which is why governments can feel the repercussions of that passion in the subsequent months, even years.

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