The irony of protesting in the United States is that while protestors may be vilified during their time, years later they are often looked upon as some of the greatest heroes in American history. In fact, it can certainly be said that our country wouldn’t be what it is today, or even exist, if not for the contributions of several revolutionaries that sought to bring about change.
That great privilege, to question everything around us, is unfortunately often taken for granted. The power of a petition or a peaceful protest is frequently undervalued by many, as well as the ability to orchestrate meaningful change in our country.
Protest may be taken for granted in this country, but as we’ve seen so recently in the news, it leads to warzones in others. The current crisis in Ukraine is only the latest example of this.
After three months of protesting, the 20,000 who were occupying Independence Square (which unfortunately is ironically named) were finally subject to the wrath of President Viktor F. Yanukovych. While initially pledging to not enact violence on the protestors, the president ordered the tents to be burned and the occupants vacated. Protesting an authoritarian and corrupt government, many refused to leave and fought back. The death toll will not likely be fully known for weeks, but the pictures released depict a tragic scene of carnage and destruction.
The sad reality is, this is not a unique occurrence by any means.
Throughout recent years, we have seen other countries such as Egypt and Syria erupt in violence because totalitarian governments refuse to allow their people to voice their opinions and criticism over the current state of their countries.
These tragedies should remind us of how fortunate we are to have the ability to voice our opinions so engrained in our culture and history. From the Civil Rights Movement to Women’s Suffrage to more recent examples like the push for Gay Rights, we have seen our country molded time and time again by the voice of the people. And yet, like every country, we are still in need of change, and forms of protest aren’t used nearly as much as they could be.
Of course, even protest in the United States isn’t always perfect. The recent incident where an 84 year old nun broke into a uranium-processing building in order to deface it as a form of protest is clearly too extreme. And while surely some good will come from the incident, as the facility is clearly in need of a security upgrade, this wasn’t the right way to get a message across regardless of intentions. However, the media often likes to take incidents like this and generalize all protestors as “radicals” but this is not always the case. Even with the Occupy Wall Street, the message that the movement was trying to convey was frequently overshadowed by some of the actions of some individuals. This is a shame, as movements like Occupy were about so much more.
It’s important to remember that protest isn’t just yelling and waving picket signs. It can be as small as writing a letter to a congressman to spreading around a petition. We live in a country where we are able to do something very special, something that many around the world die trying to do. While protesting can be disruptive, or even inconvenient, it is a right we should all try to exercise. There are few messages more powerful than people uniting together to have their voices heard. Some truly astounding changes have occurred in our history because of protest, and there’s no reason we should stop now. It’s a right we need to appreciate, cherish and use to its fullest potential.
Nick Ulferts is a junior English major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.