Protest has always been significant in American history. In essence, protest is intended to give a voice to the voiceless, serving as the only means disadvantaged groups have of expressing themselves. When African-Americans marched through Alabama in 1965, they did so because they were excluded from fair and free elections. In perhaps America’s most famous protest, the Sons of Liberty destroyed almost 46 tons of British tea because they were deprived of the right to elect representatives to Parliament.
Less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, more than 4 million people around the globe marched in solidarity against the inauguration of an overt misogynist and racist. Within the last week, Trump’s executive orders to suspend the admission of refugees and block Muslim immigration were met with resistance so ubiquitous he was forced to backpedal. While this move seems like a testament to the power of the people, it would be foolhardy to assume that protest in itself will be successful in inhibiting the malevolence of the Trump administration. No amount of protesting on behalf of refugees can make Donald Trump a humanitarian.
As such, the benefit of this dissent lies in the message it sends. Protests serve to showcase the anger of the people. When a group of about 100 UT students walked out of class to protest the inauguration, they did so while forgetting what they disagreed with. Their message dissolved into a muddle of anti-fascist, anti-police, anti-government raillery. The most radical among them spoke the loudest, hijacking a demonstration about the inauguration and transforming it into a hazy grab for attention.
In contrast, the next day’s Women’s March — while inarguably representative of different issues and identities — unified around positive themes. At a time when the country is more divided than it has been in recent memory, our ability to unite around a shared hope for the future will define positive demonstration. However, the ultimate success of the anti-Trump movement will be decided by its leaders’ ability to demand specific change.
“Effective protests push the envelope just a little,” history professor H.W. Brands said. Protests, he said, that seek specific, targeted and “doable” aims are most likely to see immediate change. If the last 10 days provide any insight, the next four years will be fraught with protests. The developing opposition movement will only succeed if they can find a way to unify around achievable goals.
We are entering a new era of dissent. On Nov. 8, the voices of the majority of Americans were drowned out by an outdated voting system, and the next four years will see a reemergence of those voices in unprecedented magnitudes. There will be protests, and there will be hell to raise, but more significantly, there will be people across the country preparing to resist the coming era. So march, assert your malcontent, but never walk out of class to make a statement. Throw yourself into your education knowing that institutional change happens over time through tireless effort. At the end of the day, your most influential method of dissent will be what you do with the time that is given to you. This is the world that we will inherit. Brace yourself.
Anderson is a Plan II and history freshman from Houston.