The Power of Protest


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A rear view of people with placards and posters on global strike for climate change.

Elaina Freeman, Writer


          “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something”- John Lewis 

      Imagine a world where no one ever spoke up for what they believed.  Imagine a world where society never sought change, a society that never felt the need to evolve.  Imagine a society that never dared to ask questions about the world around them.  Imagine a society that never wanted the world to be a better place.  Picture a place eerily similar to one you call home, except everything you’ve ever known is different.   The world I’ve just described is one very few people would willingly choose to live in , a world completely erased of activism and protests. 

        Everything we know about the world around us is a direct result of the activism demonstrated by the people who came before us.  Every movement of activism was led by people who began to recognize the problems that surrounded their society. These activists defied the idea of staying quiet about their issues. Instead they demanded that a change be made.  For every movement, sit-in or march, activists made waves in the way society functioned.  Without that activism, our lives would be so different.  

        Think about the life you live today. Everyone who ever saw a problem and tried to fix it, contributed to the way you live today.  The rights that impact your life on a daily basis would all be gone if someone had never questioned authority.  Voting and segregation both could have had very different endings than the one recorded in the history books. If you erase the activism of the world, then you erase all of the changes it brought.  This means that schools would still be segregated, some would never be charged for their crimes, only white men would have the right to vote, schools would not have better security and people could not call out their assaulters.  In a world erased from this activism, everyone would be exactly the same.  We would all be clones of each other, the thoughts in our heads wouldn’t even be our own. Is that a world you want to live in?Do you want to live in a world where everyone is stripped from their individuality and freedoms? This is called a dictatorship or authoritarianism.

 Over my lifetime, there have been a number of influential protests/movements that have changed the way society functioned.  I’ve been lucky to grow up in a world where activism is not only encouraged, but accepted.  The protests of this era were led by the next generation of activists.  In recent years, protests have become normalized due to the frequent rate they occur.  These protests/movements include; March For Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, The Women’s March,  #Me Too and Dreamers. These protests and movements were just the catalyst for social activism in the 2000’s.  In the last decade there have also been significant protests for climate change, LGBTQIA+ rights, Roe V. Wade and stricter gun control. 

However, protesting is not as common in other parts of the world. In fact, it is actually not allowed.  Living in this country, some have taken the right to protest for granted. While we raise our voices in this country; citizens of other countries could only dream of speaking out for their beliefs.  These people know that raising their voices will have dire consequences, so they stay quiet. They live their lives in constant fear, knowing that one wrong step can lead to their deaths. 

At the beginning of the Ukrainian/Russia war, there was a woman who made national headlines.  The woman’s name is Maria Ovsyannikova and her actions led to the whole world discussing her story. The war between Ukraine and Russia has been extremely deadly and has lasted the span of a year. At the beginning of the war, Maria Ovsyannikova held up a sign that read “No War, stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here.”  

Maria Ovsyannikova did the unthinkable, she went against the Russian Government. In Russia, citizens are not allowed to go against the government.  Russia controls every aspect of citizen’s lives, including the news that is broadcasted.  Maria Ovsyannikova knows this better than most, as she was once a journalist for the Russian media. She saw an opportunity to get her message across and risked everything in the process. She held up this sign during a live news broadcast.  When the employees behind the program realized what was happening they quickly shifted off of the live broadcast. These people feared her message and wanted to prevent it from spreading. However, it was too late. The world had seen her sign, whether the government liked it or not.   In an article published by BBC News on March 15th, 2022, Maria is quoted saying “”The interrogation lasted for more than 14 hours, I wasn’t allowed to get in touch with my family or friends, I was denied access to a lawyer,” she said.” It was completely unacceptable for Maria to be treated so hostility. All she did was voice her opinion, and she was treated like a criminal. 

Maria Ovsyannikova’s story is one example of the way protesters are treated globally.  In other places around the world, activists are silenced and discouraged for voicing their opinions. They are not allowed to speak their minds. If they dare to speak up, they understand that they are sacrificing everything.  Recently  Maria Ovsyannikova escaped from Russia. She is quoted in The Guardian saying ““I didn’t want to emigrate until the very last moment,” Ovsyannikova said at a Paris press conference with the journalists’ organisation Reporters without Borders. “Russia is still my country, even if war criminals have power there. But I had no choice – it was either prison or exile. I’m very grateful to France, a free country, to have welcomed me.”” I believe that the reason Maria was spared was because the world was watching her story. If her story had not been covered by the media, I do not know if she would still be alive today. 

Protests here have become something that is normalized. We have taken the right to protest for granted. In other parts of the world, activists dream of being able to speak this freely.  Here, we are allowed to say what is on our minds and we will not be severely punished for protesting.Our Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I can’t imagine living somewhere that restricted the freedoms given to us in the First Amendment of the Constitution. 

I think it is important to talk about the fact that the right to protest does not belong to one side of an issue or another. I think that everyone should have the right to express their opinions, even if I do not necessarily agree with their opinion. Just because I wouldn’t support something, does not mean that the people who do should be silenced.  I think that the right to protest should be shared to people worldwide. 

We need to acknowledge that the next generation is always the ones behind these movements. Older generations believe that this is the way the world is and they do not think there is anything that can be done to fix it. Younger generations are the ones to call out the relevant problems and are the ones demanding a change is made. Over time each generation realizes that the world belongs to them and they are empowered to make a difference. However, the people that were once leading the protests, may have decided it’s time to give up. This is when the next generation joins the fight. We are currently living in the time period where Gen Z is the generation leading the protests. If we approach topics with the mentality that nothing will change and our hands are tied, no changes will ever be made.  We have the opportunity to fix the problems in front of us. The question is are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution? The choice is yours….