At present, we doth protest in vain, methinks


During my four years on Queen’s campus, I’ve seen my fair share of protests. I used to disapprove of them, especially protests against certain lecturers or guest speakers. I believed there’s more value in asking a question—challenging an opponent directly—than picketing their appearance.

I still think debate is the greatest tool for changing minds, for defending your beliefs, and for winning hearts and elections. But I’ve also realized there’s a benefit to protests.

Protesting is a tool you can own. Protesting allows you to set your own agenda, to fight for your beliefs on your own terms, and to challenge power on a scale much greater than your own.

Protests are valuable in a democracy—but to be successful they need to be unified, to ring out as one voice, louder and clearer than any single person. Protests should shout out, “We are many, but we know what’s wrong and what must change. Hear us and be compelled.”

The people need to be heard—and when they are, they can move mountains.

Today, it seems the voice of the people is splinted into a thousand groups. It’s forced to the extremes, alienated from itself by uncivil tongues, hateful rhetoric, and unyielding adversity.

I’m not saying people should stop protesting or all issues should be solved at a debate club. There’s a breadth of issues that no other forum will touch and a lot of necessary change demanding public action.

There’s something admirable in channeling Howard Beale and shouting from the rooftops: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” But what’s more admirable—what’s necessary—is to ask what comes next.

A blockade of our borders is not a protest. It’s an attack on our freedom and our economy. A disorganized crowd of people fighting without an objective isn’t a protest either—it’s a mob.

A protest is not an excuse to disregard the rule of law and society. It’s not an excuse to risk your neighbors’ health and safety. It’s not an excuse to promote hate and violence. 

A real protest is a purposeful disruption of society to demand change. The right to protest is paramount to successful opposition but is failing in its potential. It’s now, sadly, a marker of a group with little focus, organization, or faith—but it doesn’t have to be.

Showing up isn’t enough, making signs isn’t enough, yelling from the rooftops isn’t enough. To protest, you must be informed. To protest you must have conversations, come prepared, know your message, and be unified in your demands to be heard as one voice.

That’s how a protest gains traction. And that’s what separates a meaningful message from the noise.

Spencer is a fifth-year history student and The Journal’s Senior Photo Editor.


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