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Protests support powerful collective voices

By Tessie Ward, February 14 2017 —

On Jan. 21, the largest simultaneous protest in the history of the United States — the Women’s March on Washington — took place in various cities across the U.S. and around the world. The protest numbers were estimated to be between 3.6 and 4.6 million worldwide. And it was peaceful — there were no arrests made at the Women’s March in the U.S.

This was more than a peaceful and meaningful protest. The Women’s March saw people come together to make a statement and demand to be heard. The numbers are impossible to ignore.

Following United States President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., more protests erupted. Thousands of people arrived at different airports and government buildings to fight the order.

Protests are important. No matter which issues are being represented, the right to peacefully protest shows that people can be politically involved beyond simply voting or contacting their local representatives. This is important in a democratic country like the U.S., which prides itself on the value of freedom.

I attended the Seattle Women’s March with my mother. The organizers prepared for 50,000 attendees, but over 100,000 showed up. Every bus was packed like sardines, so we had to walk a few kilometres to the march’s meeting point.

Estimated 4,000 people attended the Calgary Women's March // Photo by Melanie Woods.

An estimated 4,000 people attended the Calgary Women’s March // Photo by Melanie Woods.

As we joined the crowd, I started to get overwhelmed. All I could see behind and in front of me were people holding signs, wearing pink “pussyhats” and occasionally chanting. But mostly, people talked among themselves. There were young people, people of colour, dads with their daughters and grandmothers. Everyone not only cared, but cared enough to come to the march, make a sign and refuse complacency.

It’s easy to dismiss the effectiveness of protests when you only see them on the news. The coverage is usually limited to facts and figures, maybe some interviews with participants and different video clips cut together. It’s impersonal. But when you’re actually in a protest, it’s a lot different. I walked with a group of complete strangers, but I knew we were all marching for a common goal. The physicality of being in this massive group made me see how important a protest can be — not just to the political or social movement, but also to the people who go out and join these movements.

To dismiss protests is to deny that people can be involved in making political change through their actions. Protests are meaningful to the people who participate, the movements they represent and those who witness their cause.

Protests are effective and give a collective voice to the people. My best advice for those that don’t believe protests matter is to attend one. Make a sign, chant with the group and feel their power.

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