Some Friendly Advice for Would-Be Protesters

MLK. Man, did that guy know how to protest. He’s a hero of mine. I mean, he did everything right — the time, the place, the methods, the issues. He had it all figured out.

Time and place? Selma, Alabama, right when anger was fresh enough and tensions were high enough to ensure the fearless dedication of those with whom he marched.

Methods? Strict nonviolence amid a culture of brutality, to make the good guys and bad guys impossible to confuse. Even better, he ensured that every last bit of activism would be caught on camera.

The issues? Loopholes in voter registration laws that allowed bigoted administrators to deny black citizens the right to vote.

Bam. It was all there, and that was guy fearless about it, too. He was arrested 29 times. 29. And as an unfortunately small number of people in my generation know, one of his best works was written from a jail cell.

And he could write. I must have listened to the “I Have a Dream” speech hundreds of times. It still gets the tears going, still makes me want to go live during his time in the ‘60s, despite the overwhelmingly negative fact that Springsteen hadn’t released an album yet.

I do wonder what Dr. King would have thought of our modern, would-be protesters. Although no group I have seen so far has had the audacity to mention his name alongside theirs, there have been insinuations that liken today’s college campus movements to the civil rights movement led by Dr. King.

There are people — many, in fact — who would firmly declare that they, the seekers of safe spaces, have much more in common with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. than not. I suppose this is possible. Perhaps Dr. King would have looked at these movements and commended the continuation of his legacy, the continuation of the journey to carry out his dream.

Maybe. But in my own, humble opinion, I think Dr. King would be ashamed.

I speak now to those who would scream at and accost an older man (Yale), to those who would use their unfortunate newfound power to rob the offices of university officials far wiser and more experienced than they are (Claremont McKenna, Yale, Mizzou), and to those who would “muscle” away the freedom of press guaranteed by the constitution that they have the privilege of being protected by (Mizzou, Loyola University of Chicago).

Let me say again: Dr. King would be ashamed of you, and I am embarrassed to be called your peer.

But I digress. In order to hold a protest, you need but a few things to get started. Number one: You must have a clear cause to protest, and your feelings will not do. There is institutionalized racism on U.S. college campuses, and this truly needs to be fixed, but just protesting on the basis of how you feel about the matter doesn’t really mean or amount to anything.

Instead, find a specific, corrupted rule or practice, then have an organized, concerted effort to get that rule or practice changed. Make sure everyone knows exactly what you are protesting, so that when outsiders look in, you don’t look like a bunch of coddled, ignorant first years.

Which brings me to number two: coherent demands. Let’s start with the positives: Calling your list of grievances a list of “demands” is great. It suggests your uncompromising devotion to your cause and your tireless effort to achieve your goals. But according to classic protest protocol, your demands are the basis and forefront of your protest, not a paper list quietly dropped off at an administration building.

Repeatedly explain to protesters and non-protesters alike exactly what you are protesting. Otherwise you suggest to outsiders that you see your demands as less important than the act of protesting itself, which would essentially be a waste of your — and, more importantly, everyone else’s — time.

Also, work on your demands. Inserting a course as specific as black studies into a highly generalized core curriculum just doesn’t make any sense, and UNIV 101 is painful enough without “cultural competency” training.

Finally, and most importantly, number three: the press. This is where we need some serious tutoring. The press is your friend. How else will people know you’re protesting? Not only does forcibly dismissing the press from your public gatherings violate the constitution of the country we all have the privilege of living in, but it also throws a wrench in your whole movement.

The point of a protest is to get the word out, to make your grievances public and well known. A protest without the press comes across as a group of misguided teenagers trying to stick it to the university where they live and work. Your cause gets completely lost in the breeze.

I hope this article has served as an informative methodology to proper protesting. If you feel this article offended you or violated any of your personal freedoms, please feel free to contact the person sitting next to you. I’m pretty sure they won’t care either.

Trigger warning: This article may not have been suitable for all readers.

Did I do that right?


Tommy Jorgensen is a junior biophysics major.

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