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Does Activism Matter? 20 Reasons to Say Yes!
Shel Horowitz, Marketing Consultant - Going Beyond Sustainability Shel Horowitz, Marketing Consultant - Going Beyond Sustainability
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Springfield, MA
Monday, July 17, 2023


Yes, nonviolent protest really does work. Here are some of the reasons why.

Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon, June 4, 2020

Lifelong activist Emily Levy made a short video outlining 10 reasons why protests matter. In less than 15 minutes, she explores these benefits of participating in protests. Protests:

  1. Raise the cost to politicians of doing the wrong thing

  2. Heighten awareness both of the issue and that the issue has a constituency of people who care about it enough to take time out of their day

  3. Build momentum toward change, even systemic change (she notes Erica Chenoweth’s research that shows that a government will crumble if just 3-1/2 percent of the population engages in nonviolent resistance)

  4. Help participants feel less isolated

  5. Inspire others to show up, especially if you carry signs about why you’re marching

  6. Provide cathartic release: what she calls “a national scream”

  7. Create opportunities to get involved with organizations working on causes that matter to you

  8. Offers a voice to oppressed and powerless groups that would risk to much if they were actively protesting

  9. Allow even very small numbers to bear witness (I personally have conducted some one-person protests, so this resonates deeply with me)

  10. Facilitate ways to harness your skills, beliefs, and connections to make bigger and more lasting change

It’s a great list, but it’s only the beginning. Here are ten more that I came up with very quickly. I’d love you to add to the list as well.

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1) Sometimes, demonstrations and protests actually change things. A few among many examples:

• The 1963 civil rights March on Washington (the “I Have a Dream” march, which my late mother attended)

• 1977’s occupation of the Seabrook nuclear plant construction site, which birthed the modern US safe energy movement. I participated, and I wrote extensively about HOW this action changed the world (that link takes you to part 1 of a 5-part series I wrote about it, and each one links to the next installment at the end)

• Arab Spring brought down multiple repressive governments within just a few months

• The Save the Mountain movement I co-founded resulted in thirteen months of continuous public opposition to a development project–and succeeded! I expected to win, but even I thought it would take five years.

2) Not only do protests show the demonstrators we are not alone, but it emboldens sympathizers who have not taken action before to do so.

3) We don’t always know the effects of our actions in influencing others until afterwards–but later we may have found that we created a shift in public opinion and in willingness to take action.

4) Demonstrations offer chances to learn about not-very-visible parts of your own community–some disenfranchised and needing to tell their stories, others doing great work but out of the limelight.

5) Protests reinforce the idea that powerful, well-thought-out nonviolent action can create sustained change.

6) Sometimes, amazing performers and speakers participate. I have heard John Lennon and Yoko Ono Lennon (several times), Paul Winter, Stevie Wonder, Holly Near, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary, Orleans, Jackson Browne, and many others. I learned news and ideas from speakers that changed my way of thinking. In fact, at my very first peace demonstration on October 15, 1969, 12-year-old me heard a speaker say that the Vietnam war was undeclared. When I discovered he was correct, it changed my whole way of looking at the world and turned me into an activist–because everything I’d been led to believe about the US system of checks and balances came crashing down around me.

7) Participation is empowering! You know you’re working for peace, justice, a green planet, etc.–and you feel ready to take on the world.

8 ) You get to enjoy the creativity of signs, puppet shows, songs and chants, etc. that spotlight the issue of the day.

9) It’s a way to build your personal community. If you’ve been doing this a while, you get to catch up with your friends. If you’re new to protesting, you can make new friends.

10) More often than not, participating in a protest is actually fun.

While Emily wrote her list back in 2019, it’s all still not only true but relevant. A few things have changed, though–some good, some bad:

  • Dozens of new ways of protesting were invented or popularized during the pandemic, adding to more than 200 we already had

Protestor creativity in recent years includes massive digital projections from small devices. Here, pro-immigration messages are projected on the US side of the border crossing between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas in 2020. Photo copyright 2020 by Shel Horowitz. Contact the author for reprint permission.
  • Repressive right-wing governments have been forced from power in countries such as the US and Brazil–but took or consolidated power in Israel, Hungary, Turkey, and India

  • Putin has started a criminal and brutal war against Ukraine

  • In the US, the ultra-right has taken over the Supreme Court and several state legislatures, catalyzing a whole new generation of activists–and in election after election, progressives are winning big in places they weren’t expected to

  • Black Lives Matter and reproductive rights protests reached critical mass

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