From the Director: Rallies, Marches and Protests Work!

By: Josh Spring LSW, Executive Director

Movement. Struggle. Sometimes we hear criticism for having rallies, marches and protests. Some people will say, “Oh why are you doing that, it doesn’t work anymore, times have changed.” When this has been said, I have never heard anyone give a full explanation of why such actions supposedly don’t work anymore or what changed to make them supposedly ineffective- or even why they used to be effective. Actually, I don’t think these criticisms are correct at all. I am thankful that people have expressed their opinions, but I don’t believe the assessment that rallies, marches and protests are somehow now ineffective is correct.

In fact I would submit that this misconception that rallies, marches and protests are ineffective is in many ways caused by history being cheapened in our school educations. If you think back to your middle school, high school and maybe even college courses (if you had each of these educational opportunities), how was history regarding movement taught to you and your classmates? How often did you even hear or see the word “movement.”

In school, relative to movement, I remember hearing about the Civil Rights Movement, I remember hearing a tiny bit about the labor movement, a bit about women’s rights and some about the rights of those who lived on this land first and the anti-Vietnam War movement. I am not sure I heard the word “movement” actually connected to any of these other than the “Civil Rights Movement” and in the context my classmates and I heard it- it was as if the movement to demand the recognizing of equality between people who have black skin and people who have white skin- had a title- the “Civil Rights Movement.” It was spoken of sort of like a trademarked product, not something with strong people and complex strategy and hard work. That is why I choose to show it in “title” format as I always learned it in school. It was taught as a title, not something you could touch or join.

When learning of the Civil Rights Movement and a tiny bit about the other movements I mentioned, we were only taught about certain events. They marched in Birmingham, and everything changed, they boycotted busses and everything changed, Rosa Parks would not give up her seat and everything changed, they marched on Washington and everything changed… This gave the image that these big, wonderful events- rallies, marches and protests- happened and everything changed.

So today, some see a rally, march or protest but don’t see some sweeping change soon after and they say, well look, obviously this stuff doesn’t work anymore- it used to back in the day, but not now. Does that really make sense? Or could it be that we were taught history only by what someone else attempting to abbreviate history, termed a “key event.” Don’t read me wrong, each of the events I mentioned above are so important and took so much strength, but those events did not stand alone.

There were many meetings between them in which people debated tactics, some said, “Oh it’s too soon,” or “it’s too late,” or “that will tick off the wrong people” or “that will make the exact point we are trying to make,” or perhaps “that won’t work anymore…” There were many protests, rallies and marches that happened that we never heard about and certainly weren’t taught about in school.

There were many protests, rallies and marches that were held and nothing big changed soon after- in fact most of them would have been like that- in every movement. Movements involve many steps of all sizes- all requiring much strength and hard work.

History does not happen in snippets and big bangs like we are taught. Change happens through hard, diligent and often slow work. We cannot become discouraged by protesting and not seeing immediate change. We are up against big foes.

The truth is, rallies, marches and protests work just as well now as they used to, for them to be even more effective, it just takes more of us to be involved. We must be involved in the big events, the medium sized events and the small ones- we must add strength to long strategy meetings and have healthy conversations about the best tactics. Sometimes protest looks like signs on the corner, sometimes it looks like a march, sometime it looks like pushing for new legislation, sometimes it looks like not backing down when some want us to compromise where compromise would be detrimental.

Soon we will celebrate Labor Day. Growing up I thought Labor Day generally had something to do with being thankful for people working and/or the labor of birth. I was never quite sure- I was mostly happy it meant a day free of school. I wish I had been taught our true history and learned about the Labor Movement. Because of the many people who have worked very hard over the years in the Labor Movement, we have Unions that allow workers to negotiate for proper pay, benefits and working environments. We have increased safety in many work places, we have a more manageable work-week, hours wise and so much more. So many people take these gains for granted. All of this is thankful to many, many people having long meetings, talking strategy, hashing out ides, marching, rallying and protesting.

Sometimes when some talk about what we have now versus what we did not use to not have it seems to be passed off as- “see how far we have come, things are so much better”- and that’s the end of the talk. We have come to the point we are currently at because of hard-working people, but we have so very far to go. We have constant battles to keep what those before us fought for and we have constant battles to go even further in our Movement. We must always be working to push forward. Movement is constant and often too slow. Movement is not simply a series of big events. We must stand on what those before us have done and continue to lay more and more levels for other to stand on. Movement is a grind. Please don’t say it only used to work- please join in how it is working now.