Protesting one way of giving voice to issues

By Morgan Antonez

Protesting and attending rallies has become a mainstay in Steph Black’s life as she, like many other college students, are adjusting to the Trump presidency.

“I always hated politics growing up, but with the issues I care about, I by default have to be politically active.”

Steph Black, Student Leader at American University.

Black, 20, is in her third year at American University studying women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and is involved in almost every women-centered organization on campus. She calls her senator, Elizabeth Warren, weekly to tell her to keep up the good work and to voice her opposition to whatever Trump has lined up that week.

“I call on certain days so I can talk to certain staffers, they know me now and expect my calls every week,” said Black.

Black changed her major from elementary education after attending a rally at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. The energy surrounding the decision of Whole Women’s Health V. Hellerstedt inspired Black to change her priorities.

“I can’t sit on the couch and pretend that everything is fine,” Black said.  “As college students, we aren’t directly affected by Trump yet, but we’re looking down the barrel of a gun, it’ll start affecting us soon.”

Many college-age students would agree with Black, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, most Americans see protests as ineffective at creating change. The poll was centered around the March for Science, and found 44 percent of adults saw the march as making no difference in public support for science.

Black acknowledges this sentiment, and sees the explosion of protests and rallies this year as a potential problem, but would never discourage anyone from speaking about their cause.

“There are the protests that get shit done, and then there are the ones that are more symbolic and are about the unification of people, which is just as important,” Black said, referring to the Women’s March and March for Science, both held this past year.

Direct change isn’t a priority for Black, who sees taking a stand against something with a smaller number of people as being as effective as high profile marches, “People who take time out of their day to literally take a stand, those are the people who make changes happen.”

Jamie Driscoll, 22, is another AU student studying WGSS, who donates as much time as she can to supporting protests against Trump’s policies.

Jamie Driscoll, WGSS Major at American University enjoys coffee at the Bridge Cafe on Campus

“It’s not enough to talk the talk. It’s our civic duty to protest and fight back,” Driscoll said. “A year later, I’m still getting emails every day about rallies against Trump. The fact that it hasn’t let up speaks volumes.”

Driscoll mirrored Black’s thoughts on the importance of symbolic gestures, “The March for Science was so important. It was a visual representation of people’s anger against Trump, and letting them know that academics can’t be unbiased when threatened.”

An audit from the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor found that in 2016, there were 1,224 demonstrations in the District, a 58 percent increase from the previous year. With no data released for this year yet, the number of demonstrations is expected to increase.

Kica Matos, the Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change, organized support for the Clean Dream Act Rally that took place on Dec. 6, 2017.  Matos worked through the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, to gain support from the hundreds of thousands of members to build support for the demonstration.

Clean Dream Rally, Fists raised in support of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

After speaking to a crowd of over 2,000 supporters of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Matos joined the crowd as they moved towards the Capitol steps.

“I have never been in a darker time in American history,” Matos said. “This administration has no respect for the constitution, no respect civil rights, and no respect for human rights. If our communities don’t speak up we could see the end of our democracy.”

Matos is also working with the Defend our Dreams campaign, that focuses ensuring that Congress passes legislation that protects young immigrants.

The center provides support for movements across the U.S., and focuses on building communities voices and elevating them. Matos said that this was a critical time to have the Clean Dream Act Rally, before legislators went home for the holidays.

“We’ve just organized the largest act of civil disobedience in the modern immigrants rights movement. You can’t tell me this doesn’t matter or that there is too much of this.” Matos said.

While Matos sees the support for rallies of any size, Steph Black still has doubts about the quantity of these movements.

“There’s an oversaturation of everything, from NGO’s, non-profits, and demonstrations. People who want to do their own thing and their own rallies and protests and causes, without looking at how we can move across the board together.” Black said,  “All these issues intersect, they don’t exist in bubbles.”

Black hopes to see consolidation in these movements, so they can institute and create real change, “I think there should be more looking outwards, at who is fighting alongside of you and not just at what you and a small number of people can do.”