Less than a century ago, black people in the United States were still denied the basic rights we have today, and were largely treated as second-class citizens.
During the Civil Rights Movement, those marginalized people decided to stand up and demand what was rightfully theirs. Protesting was an effective tool used during the movement, instrumental in expressing the people’s conviction and highly effective in demonstrating the power and impact a large unified group could have. Today, in the wake of the highly publicized killings of black victims, such as Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, protests are once again being utilized to demonstrate the will of the people in places such as Ferguson, New York City and Atlanta.
However, this is not the Civil Rights Movement of days past and protesting is not as effective now as it was back then.
One problem with protests today is the lack of organization and coordination. With the exception of continuous protesting in Ferguson, the foundation of these recent protests, most protests that have occurred across the country have not endured for very long. If the protests don’t grow with time, the focus they are meant to draw will quickly fade away. Without a person or a group to organize the movement, the difficulty of continuing the protests will remain great.
Also, with a lack of coordination comes the lack of any voice. These protests don’t necessarily need one single leader; Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were just two of many leaders during the Civil Rights Movement.
However, these protestors need people to look to for guidance, to clarify the movement’s purpose and to work with other leaders to give their actions a unity that would bring more power. We live in a representative government, and the necessity of having representation can’t be overlooked. It would make these protestors more than just people yelling and marching in the street; it would give not only the protestors someone to look to, but it would give those outside of the movement a source to work with. Without any leaders, who could be trusted to meet with the government on behalf of everyone involved to express their opinions and concerns?
Another purpose of having a voice is to make motives and intentions clear. A popular distinction made between King and Malcolm X is how they viewed the issue of violence in obtaining their rights. Had there been no leaders during the Civil Rights Movement, it would have been very possible for people to lump all people under Malcolm X’s violent approach, with no one to claim otherwise. So, in the midst of these current protests, when some unruly citizens decide to vandalize or loot, who is there to speak on behalf of the protestors and separate those criminal activities from their own goals?
With a lack of coordination comes the lack of any voice.
Furthermore, protesting is ineffective because protesting itself is not enough. Something more needs to be done. Protestors need to be more proactive in bringing their goals to fruition, and in taking subsequent actions to express their will. For instance, after Rosa Parks was famously arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the front of the bus to a white passenger, people boycotted the buses in Montgomery for over a year. That is much more than just a protest; that boycott further demonstrated their community’s cohesiveness and their willingness to act further, and it had a direct impact on the city that eventually led to the integration of buses.
Finally, perhaps the greatest disadvantage these protests face is how they are perceived. A few days ago students at Ohio State University flooded the streets to celebrate their NCAA championship win, and committed a huge number of acts of vandalism and arson. In the media, they were referred to as revelers and fans.
When one fire was lit during protests in Ferguson, the entire group of protestors was referred to as thugs, looters, rioters and savages.
One purpose these protests are supposed to serve is to draw attention to the issues at hand, and to expose the injustices that are present. If the protests were to cease, there would be no attention drawn to the issues at all, but when the protesters are largely portrayed as villains, the protests cease to draw attention to the issues and instead draw criticism to the protestors. The message the media is sending is drowning out the message the protests are meant to send.
I realize no solution is offered here, and I did not intend to offer one. I only meant to point out that the ongoing fight is not the same one our forefathers fought, and therefore cannot be fought in the same way. The institutionalized racism and horrible treatment of black people that still exists in this country is a terrible injustice that needs to be addressed.
I can’t say whether or a not there is a clear solution, but I can say that protesting as it’s being done now will not be enough, and alternative means to an end must be discussed.
Nathyia Watson is a College freshman from Buffalo, New York.