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Citizen Protests: Protecting Their Rights and Responsibilities

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Protests, peaceful or violent, have been around for as long as this country has been alive. Ways to protest, reasons to protest, how protests can affect America and concerns regarding protests have changed over time but one thing that will always remain the same is an individual’s entitlement to their own opinion. A protest can begin when a group of people with similar views, disagree or agree on something they feel strongly against or strongly about. Whether it is protesting constitutional acts, health care, or climate change, people have taken their support and opinions of issues to the streets, the internet, the courthouse and many more places where one feels they can be heard. A number of times, these protests have changed individual perspectives on these state of affairs. The twenty first century has been an era of protests concerning many controversial issues backed up by an abundance of judgement.

In this day and age, there are many more ways and much more effective strategies to get the word out about a certain opinion or current issue. The various forms of protest activities have grown and developed over time. Before the internet was existent, organizers would spend months knocking on people’s doors with the goal of persuading them to be a part of a significant movement or march. Telephone trees, which is a message delivered by a phone call, encourages every person contacted to also contact a good amount of potential activists in return. It was a popular way of gaining a number of people’s interest in protest activity. Marches, rallies, stands, and sit-ins are just some more of the many forms of protest activity. These acts of protest have been around for as long as this country has been around. To this day, these are still some of the most popular ways to protest. The biggest one-day variety of protests in the history of the United States was the day after Donald Trump was elected into office in 2016. More than four million people in Washington and all over the country took part in anti-Trump protests. One of these major protests being the women’s march, a popular, annual march for equality in rights and treatment between men and women. Social media was introduced in the twenty-first century and has changed the world in many ways, even politically. With the power of social media, there are lots of persuasive and constructive tactics used when organizing a movement or spreading the word on a certain issue. Social media has essentially made establishing a protest a lot easier. One post can be shared by numerous amounts of people in seconds, gaining more views, knowledge, and interested people in a movement, regardless of the political, religious, or social opinions. The large protest that had happened the day after Trump was elected into office in 2016, all developed from a post on facebook. A retired lawyer from Hawaii named Teresa Shook posted an update to her facebook page wanting to know if any women were interested in a rally in Washington, close to the time of Trump’s inauguration, to protest his presidency. She had woken up the next morning with 10,000 people showing interest in her post and her idea which then turned into millions of people by the time of the protest. Social media allows anyone to become a political organizer. In contrast to the positive idea of using a social media platform to develop a social group, it is less likely for the protesters to see eye to eye on acceptable behavior during a protest or rally than are groups that were formed by an organizing group. The list of protest activities goes on. Certain strategies that go back to the very first protests are still used today. Strategies such as; marches, rallies, stands, and sit-ins. Various protest plans began to develop with telephone trees and eventually lead to social media. Each strategy has a unique way of voicing an individual or groups opinion on a certain issue.

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The twenty-first century has been a protest-rich era. Different controversial issues spur with different presidential terms. Scholars say Donald Trump’s presidential election has initiated an active epoch of protests displaying the country’s deed ideological polarization backing up the fact that protests occur more often when a rebublican is in office. Since Trump’s election, there have been outbreaks of protests regarding health care, climate change, immigation, alleged police brutality against unarmed African-Americans, removal of confederate monuments, abortion and many more. It is not just liberals and people who are anti-Trump who are protesting. Conservatives have protested subjects such as; the Affordable Care Act, a policy established by former president Barack Obama, gay marriage, abortion, the increase of national debt and more, while liberals are insisting on immediate action towards LGBT rights, climate change, supposed police brutality against unarmed African-Americans and more. People of all ages have been showing interest and passion towards opinions on political, religious and social views in these protests. College students across the nation have been in controversy over liberal or conservative public speakers being able to speak out on campus. This clashes with the right of freedom to speech. Students are outraged as speakers of opposing views disrupt their school day. A major spark of the Black Lives Matter movement started when an NFL player did a silent protest that sent the country into mayhem. Colin Kapernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took a knee during the national anthem to show respect for people of color who are affected by police brutality around the nation. Kapernick refused to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that allegedly oppresses black people and people of color. This started the movement of other players of the team taking a knee, and soon spread to other NFL teams, then to other teams of different sports and even high school sports. This angered lots of people including the president. The president sent out angry tweets stating that anyone in the NFL that refuses to stand for the national anthem should be fired. Lots of Americans looked at this as unpatriotic and disrespectful to people who have served our country. The form of protest does not determine the reaction of outsiders. A silent protest can still spark national anger or controversy. Many issues have been protested in the twenty-first century based on how a group of individuals feel towards the certain affair, based on how they think it could affect their lives and opinions.

A majority of the protesters goals is to influence the opposing side to agree with their outlook of the argument. Skeptics still question whether or not protests will change government policy, develop bills or rights, or get the attention of government officials or even the president. Dana Fisher, a sociologist from the University of Maryland boggles the observation that protests rarely have outcomes in terms of passing a bill or affecting a presidential policy, but protests still can help focus attention or bring concerned people together to continue working on an issue. There are only a few cases where a protest has completely swayed the current policy. Experts in activism say the key to good activism against an issue is consistency. Protests that are repeated have a higher chance of being recognized rather than one that was never done again. While lots of protests are meant to change policy, others are simply organized to attract public and media attention to create a widespread word on the issue. Some activists may take matters in their own hands and try to interest politicians or participate in direct discussions with established leaders about their personal view. The more people that are apart of a movement or protest, have a higher chance of being seen or considered for change in policy. While trying to change a policy or trying to gain recognition from the media may be difficult, activists will continue to voice what they feel needs to be heard.

How far is too far? Protests aren’t always peaceful. History has shown movements can spark anger and violence in individuals when fighting against something or for something they believe in. The potential consequences of a group of people all coming together to voice their strong opinion can get brutal. There has been numerous times where fights have broke out, police needed to get involved, streets were shut down, items were thrown, hateful words were said, and even death has occurred during what started out as a peaceful protest. One of the most famous cases was Charolettesville, Virginia when an alleged Neo-Nazi drove his vehicle into a croud of counter-protestants. This man ended up killing one and injuring thirty-five. This caught the attention of many politicians leading a handful of states to impose restrictions on protests. Sam Munger, senior director of external affairs, state innovation exchange argues that public protest is one of the few avenues left for citizens who want to voice opposition to policy choices. More concerns regarding protest activity can also be the downfall of big companies. While some bigger companies have made contributions to certain political campaigns, others have tried to avoid voicing their political views knowing the potential consequence of losing customers who don’t agree with those opinions. After a company is public about their social, religious, or political outlooks, there is typically large controversy. A lot of public vexation can be found on the internet with videos of prior customers destroying the company’s product or hateful posts created to bash the company and views that are linked with them. Voicing an opinion comes with potential consequences whether its violence, hate or losing customers, politics can be a very controversial topic.

Protests inevitability pairs with conflict. For protests to be an act of something that is not exasperation or dissatisfaction, they must have some sort of ambition for policy change or other considerable goal. Over time, ways to protest, reasons to protest, how protests can affect America and concerns regarding protests have developed with one factor remaining the same; an individual’s entitlement to their own opinion. Protests are done with the intention of getting attention on an issue that disputably, needs to be resolved. With the twenty-first century being very heavily protested based on various issues and concerns, people have made it clear that practicing various ways of activism are a way for people to make political ideas or injustices, physically present in time.  

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