We all know how it goes.
Something bad is happening (again). A shooting. A hurricane. A new way to restrict reproductive rights. We are filled with this nauseating combination of anger and helplessness. We do doomscrolling. We are anxious. We think there must be in a way we can help.
Or nothing happens at a time when something clearly needs to be changed.
It seems like no one is moving a finger to help solve the water crisis in Flint, MI, or Jackson, MS or Baltimore, MD—all cities with a black and brown majority. Rental prices are soaring while the minimum wage remains glued to the ground like a car accident for a week. Someone is taking advantage of the fact that someone else has to ration their insulin so they can afford to eat…even though insulin only costs two to eight dollars to produce.
So what do we do? We are building a community. We verify the people we know who are most affected. We organize, whether through mutual aid, relief funds or support networks. And maybe after a day or an hour, to our relief, someone tells us there will be a protest. Six hours past the nearby government building. Either you come or you’re worth nothing.
These protests are usually organized by local activist groups and, to our understanding, most of them pass through Emerson either on their way to City Hall or the Massachusetts State House.
Although demonstrating is a great way to mobilize and make your voice heard, it is not the only way, nor the most accessible, to resist. Many factors can complicate a person’s ability to attend a protest, none of which diminishes a person’s commitment to a cause. However, these factors must be taken into account if we truly seek to promote the equity, empathy and change that these social movements represent. It is important to understand that with protests, as with all other areas of society, the stakes are higher for the marginalized than for the objectively privileged.
Protesting comes with an increased risk for some marginalized groups, risks that simply don’t exist for others. These risks, which include immigration status, lack of accessibility and housing, and the ever-looming threat of police brutality, can make protests incredibly difficult.
If an undocumented person is arrested during a demonstration, they risk almost certain deportation. The Trump administration has authorized ICE and CBP to assist law enforcement during protests. Even when there are no immigration officials on site, if there is the slightest suspicion that a person is an immigrant, often due to a person’s accent or race, upon arrest, immigration officials are contacted whether the person is documented or not. . Even the immigrants with documents, be it a green card or a visa, can be deported if charged with a crime.
While a considerable number of protests are small and peaceful, there is always the risk that law enforcement will escalate the situation, and it is never certain that a protest will not turn into a conflict. As a green card holder, I personally haven’t attended any protests since my time at Emerson for this exact reason. I know I can make a difference without putting my future and my safety at risk.
When it comes to accessibility, a lack of accommodations, such as an American Sign Language interpreter for speeches, can hamper a person’s ability to participate in a protest. Accessibility should also be kept in mind when planning a walking path, as common infrastructure such as ramps and cobbled streets can hinder a wheelchair user’s ability to participate.
Unfortunately, the event is like most other aspects of society in that accessibility is often overlooked when people with disabilities are not involved in the organization of the event itself. Ableism runs deep and the assumption of physical ability can exclude people with disabilities from civic participation.
Different disabilities can also lead to specific problems when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. People have been denied medication while in police custody—people with diabetes in particular were denied insulin. As the pandemic drags on, people who don’t wear a mask at a protest may put immunocompromised attendees at serious risk.
As for the most common image seen at a protest – people marching holding banners with both hands above their heads – some attendees may need to modify their protest. These changes include attach panels to mobility aids in a way that does not interfere with their function. Different disabilities raise different concerns, some of which can make protesting much more difficult than it should be, or even impossible.
It is very important to note that protesting often involves putting yourself in the line of fire, unfortunately sometimes literally.
The Black Lives Matter marches in 2020 taught us that law enforcement will never hesitate to bring state violence to protesters, especially if they are people of color. This violence, like the white supremacy that permeates the fabric of America, has a long history that can be retraced to the violence of colonialism and chattel slavery.
Ever since there has been state violence, there have been people who have fought against it, and this struggle has taken a myriad of forms. The protest is just one of them, and it comes with an increased threat of violence to marginalized communities.
To oppose two often compared movements, police brutality was far more prevalent during civil rights protests than during BLM protests. Considering how much police brutalized civil rights protesters, using civil rights as the standard, setting a pretty low bar for policing. Yes, the outcome of a protest is far less violent today than it was then, but that doesn’t mean police brutality should be accepted.
We must not deny anyone the right to protect themselves from situations where they may face violence. Audre Lorde was one of the first to postulate self-care and self-preservation as a revolutionary act when dealing with marginalized people whose ability to thrive – to survive – is constantly hampered by the state.
“Taking care of myself is not self-indulgence. It’s self-preservation, and it’s an act of political warfare,” Lorde said in her essay “A Burst of Light.”
Those who can and choose to protest are courageous, there is no doubt. But the opposite is not true. To protest is an act of bravery, but to survive is also an act of resistance. Marginalized people who cannot or do not protest can turn their energies elsewhere.
Seeing how out of reach protesting is for many, it’s time to open up the conversation about action. Resistance can take many forms, and it is important to determine which form best suits your community and the movement. So how can you support a cause if you can’t attend a protest?
There are thousands of people and communities supporting each other and creating a space where they can better see the kind of world they want to live in. If you are interested in a particular cause, do some research. Getting involved is often as simple as asking, “What can I do to help?” »
The Boston area has excellent organizing and support networks, and many of them rely on platforms like Instagram to connect with the community. The Coalition of Freedom Fighters has a objective “to unite as many different activists, community organizers or even social action organizations, to unite them all to bring them together on a unified front to fight racism, other forms of oppression and other social injustices .”
They frequently share calls for mutual aid on their Instagram (@ffcof2020), and pushed back the rise of neo-Nazi movements in the Boston area. They also share information about upcoming protests.
While we must continue to work for accessible protests, we must also remain aware that no social movement has achieved its goals by fighting on a single front.
Those who cannot or do not participate in public demonstrations can still support the movement they wish to participate in. Protesting as a political act should be viable for those who wish to participate but who are – for now – excluded, but we should not ignore the ways we can show up for our communities outside of times of crisis.
I’m just one person, and I’m by no means an activist, but here are some great resources:
Community gardening and food insecurity:
Theater for Social Justice: