Only Through Protesting Can We Prove Our Support for Social Justice

…or something. In his most recent column, my friend and DTH columnist Mark Laichena bemoans the apparent lack of activism at UNC and asks whether this shows that UNC is less committed to social justice than “service hours and other indicators would suggest.” Even more strangely, he seems to dismiss long-term, committed efforts by members of the Campus Y, the Roosevelt Institute, and other organizations on campus that actually achieve substantive results that benefit people.

To my mind, this is a great development for UNC and shows a maturity in how we attempt to address the problems plaguing our society. The futility of student protests should be obvious. Look at the examples Mark lists of student protests that he presumably wishes UNC would emulate: protests against the tuition increases in California, marches against Scott Walker’s ban on collective bargaining in Wisconsin, and protests like Occupy Wall Street in New York.

Now, show of hands: who thinks that, because of those protests, tuition won’t increase in California, public-sector unions will be restored in Wisconsin, and income inequality will magically disappear across the country? *crickets* Thought so.

The same would apply if we had a far more active Occupy Chapel Hill/UNC (and not merely a “damp squid”) or massive numbers of students protesting our own tuition hikes. They would achieve nothing. The tuition hike would still happen because protests don’t make economic realities disappear.

Contrast that with the approach currently being taken by Student Government or the Campus Y- instead of protesting, they’re sitting down to figure out a way to minimize the tuition hike. They’re working with administrators to achieve their ends, not calling them rich, white, males who clearly don’t care about the poor.

Consider the difference between the Campus Y of the ’90s and the Campus Y of today. Two decades ago, the Campus Y was a rowdy bunch heavy on ideology, not so heavy on actually doing social justice. Today, that’s almost completely changed. Committees like Best Buddies, Big Buddy, Carolina Microfinance Initiative, Nourish International, or Project Literacy do amazing things to change our community for the better. But we’re expected to believe that their time would potentially be better spent on protesting?

Protesting is  merely man’s shallow attempt to satisfy that need to do something even though we realize that human action is ultimately futile. But on a practical level, imagine all the good that could have been done if, instead of beating drums all day and yelling, the Occupiers had devoted their time and energies to a Habitat build. We ought to celebrate that “this campus today seems far away from its activist history.” It’s not a sign that we’re any less dedicated to improving the lot of man- it’s just that we’re finally beginning to do so, little by little.

8 comments

  1. Quick point: protests are not always a futile effort. I’d argue that without the Tea Party protests, many Republican Congressmen would have caved on Obamacare before the public option was removed. Of course the bill itself still passed, but it would likely have been worse if there had been no grass roots rebellion against it.

    1. I'd put what the Tea Party did with Obamacare in the same category as what Student Government or the Campus Y are doing with tuition right now. They worked within the political process to get their message across and then converted that message into a winning political agenda. Contrast that with the almost nihilist protests of OWS or, say, the London riots or anything SDS does. That kind of protesting is futile because it won't change anything.

  2. I agree with your article, but I lost my appreciation for it after reading your reply to the previous comment, Anthony. I don't see how the Tea Party protests were any different than any other protests. They were dressing up in costumes, beating drums, and yelling (two of which are actions you argue are useless). Any actions or changes that eventually came because of their efforts are arguably a result of their protesting. When you say "that kind of protesting is futile because it won't change anything," you're revealing that you believe that effective protests (such as the Tea Party ones, in your opinion) are good, but ineffective ones (such as OWS, in your opinion) accomplish nothing. That distinction is important to point out, because your article makes it seem like you think all protests are useless.

    I'm not a fan of protests, but I do believe, like you do (based on your reply to the previous comment), that they can be an effective tool if combined with other strategies that actually involve action.

    1. No, let me try to explain it better: the Tea Party was only effective when it was working within the confines of the political process- not when they had a March on Washington, for example. You could argue they were successful when they showed up at townhall meetings and asked questions. But, as Peter pointed out, ObamaCare passed. Crucially,however, the Tea Party used elections to further their agenda.

      Mark seems to be mocking that kind of activism (which is similar to what Stud Gov and the Campus Y are doing) in favor of the protests to which I am referring: taking over the Wisconsin State Capitol, occupying the Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill, or occupying places in California universities.

      Does that make any sense? Maybe not, I could be drawing an artificial distinction. But it seems like the only protests that are successful aren't just protests- they have to have a strong element directly involved within the political process.

      1. I would agree that a protest is most effective and successful when it is not solely a protest, but when it is employed in conjunction with other tactics such as fundraising or involvement in the political process (among other things). When the Tea Party ultimately became effective by working within the confines of the political process, it did so by gaining enough momentum and support through the appeal of its protesting. The idea of standing up in solidarity against a common foe motivated (and motivates) people to get out of their houses and start using elections to further their agenda.

        The distinction that your making is clear now, but I didn't feel like it was in your article. The impression I got from you, most especially because of your final paragraph, was that protesting is absolutely useless in any form, whether (eventually or presently) supplemented by involvement in the political process or not.

  3. I agree with your article, but I lost my appreciation for it after reading your reply to the previous comment, Anthony. I don't see how the Tea Party protests were any different than any other protests. They were dressing up in costumes, beating drums, and yelling (two of which are actions you argue are useless, or at least not as effective as more action-oriented pursuits). Any actions or changes that eventually came because of their efforts are arguably a result of their protesting. When you say "that kind of protesting is futile because it won't change anything" in reference to OWS protests, you're revealing that you consider what the Tea Party did protesting and that you believe that effective protests (such as the Tea Party ones, in your opinion) are good, but ineffective ones (such as OWS, in your opinion) accomplish nothing. That is important to point out, because your article makes it seem like you think all protests are useless.

    I am not a fan of protests as tools to incite change but, like you (based on your reply to the previous comment), I believe that they can be effective as such when they are combined with other elements.

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