Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Two Kinds of Protest: The Pros and Cons of Each

Hello everyone, over the last two weeks I attended two different protests: one in Millenium Square Leeds, and one from the comfort of my own bed. A complete newbie to the activism scene, and I mean proactive activism, not including sharing instagram posts or retweeting, I had NO IDEA virtual protests were even a thing. Attending this virtual protest, followed by a ... physical protest? A protest protest? You get what I mean, gave me a good idea of the differences between the two types. Whether virtual protests remain commonplace within activism I'm not sure, as the one I "attended" was largely in response to the ongoing fears about the risk of spreading Covid-19 among demonstrators. Nontheless I believe virtual protests are a fantastic thing that should remain alongside regular protests. 

Here is a small list of the pros and cons of each one, for any budding activist wanting to learn more about how they can partake and contribute to a cause via these methods.

Virtual Protests

  • It is a stronger environment to learn: Generally, if you are attending a protest it is usually because you are already aware of the reasons for said protest, and are there to demonstrate your support for the cause. However, when I viewed the online protest I was met with a collection of activists, poets, professionals and general speakers all providing great information about the Black Lives Matter movement and other relevant discussions. Compared to what was said at the irl protest, the virtual protest was certainly richer in information. I believe the content and depth of what was being said is far more suited to the online environment. It almost lets the viewer treat the protest as a lesson, allowing themselves to make notes or just get comfortable and really take in what the speakers have to say.

  • It is disability friendly: While I'm sure most protest venues will attempt to cater to all activists attending, some still may not be able to attend for various health reasons. The coronavirus pandemic certainly highlighted the effect health concerns have on the overall turnout for protests. Many people either shielding for themselves, or with family members who are at a bigger risk of complications from covid-19, did not attend a protest to reduce the risk of spreading or getting the disease. BLM Leeds' response to these anxieties by holding an online protest was ingenious. People were able to partake in a demonstration without putting themselves at risk and truly feel a part of the protest. For someone with let's say, a chronic illness, compromised immune system, or even simply social anxiety, virtual protests could be a great asset in allowing them to join a collective voice. Once we have made it to the other side of this pandemic I really hope to see more virtual demonstrations held alongside their physical counterparts.

  • It is accessible: Similar to the point stated above, virtual protests will be available to a majority of people. For anyone living in a small town in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps younger activists with unsupportive parents, they do not have to worry about a large (and possibly expensive) commute. Most people nowadays have some sort of electronic device and a wifi connection. Provided virtual protests are held on accessible platforms (BLM Leeds used facebook for example) almost anyone should be able to access it.
  • It is not as impactful: This is only my opinion, so please do feel free to dispute it in the comments. But in the day and age of mass social media presence, I think it is becoming easier and easier for us to think nothing much of a post with 1 million likes, or a video with 10,000 shares. Compared to seeing 1000 people out on the streets marching, I do wonder how much attention 1000 people watching a livestream would get. Without the visual imput of exactly how many people are protesting against something, I don't believe the same understanding is achieved. Often, the numbers involved in a demonstration are largely what leads to those in charge making changes, whether that is out of intimidation or persuasion. While virtual protests are fantastic sources of education and one form of showing solidarity, I certainly believe it can never replace physical protests. The two working together however, will provide the best of both worlds.

Physical Protests

  • You feel more unified with the movement: I'm not entirely sure how to word this one, but the point I'm trying to put across is that when standing shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers, yet all holding up your signs and marching for the same beliefs, you are filled with such a different feeling of motivation and pride. I certainly left the protest in Leeds feeling 100% more empowered in my views, and ready to stand up against those who don't support it, even if that meant standing up against family and friends. As silly as it sounds, I suppose a physical protest really makes you feel connected and supported by other people. 

  • Physical protests increase the visibility of a cause: Providing further clarity on the final con of virtual protests, physical protests create more attention than nearly anything you could put on social media. Marches attract attention, particularly assisted the media and news journalists. Politicians notice and comment when a protest happens, and bystanders or viewers inevitably become part of the conversation, and may even see the issue with new eyes.
  • Protests sometimes do more harm than good: To counterbalance the previous point, it is also common that the conversations bystanders become part of, aren't always good ones. Particularly when a protest may turn violent or destructive (assuming it was intended to be peaceful - I understand that different environments call for different protests) because of a few individuals, people are quick to dismiss the entire reason for the protest as they are too busy being enraged about the way it was carried out. Not long ago I saw an abundance of tweets from users outraged that a horse had been threatened during a protest, yet on their account there wasn't even a single mention of the murder of George Floyd or the policy brutality, making it clear their justifications for being outraged are questionable at best. Unfortunately, if protests aren't staged well people will use it as an excuse to only look at the surface level, and not the deeper issues underneath.

  • Sometimes protests can be dangerous: This one sort of goes without saying, but with counter protests increasing rapidly at the moment, it's still worth mentioning. At physical protests there is always the risk that people who don't support your cause will be there, I mean hey in America it appears to be the police themselves. At the protest I attended there was conisderable police force to keep counter protestors away, who were all to busy getting pissed up and "protecting" a statue to even notice. However it still is common with most protests that verbal or physial abuse can occur - I even got the honour of being called a disgrace by who I can only assume was a fine EDL supporter. I think this is important fo someone with anxiety or PTSD for example to consided, because as important as it is to show your support for something, mental (and sometimes physical) well-being should also be considered.
This is by no means a definitive list, and I think I may even add to it after a bit more consideration. I hope you enjoyed reading this and please feel free to leave a comment on what you think abou virtual and physical protests!

Stay safe and take care x


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