Professors and students discuss importance of protests
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Wednesday, February 22, 2017
The last ten years have seen a surge of protest both on the left of the political spectrum, mostly in reaction to President Donald Trump’s policies, and on the right, with the Tea Party Movement. This spirit of protest has bled over into Notre Dame’s campus with student groups engaging in demonstrations this semester on campus and in Washington, D.C.
Tuesday evening in the Geddes Hall Coffee House, associate professors of sociology Kraig Beyerlein and Ann Mische and two student activists, Sarah Drumm, the secretary of the Right to Life club, and Jessica Pedroza from We Stand For, discussed the power of demonstration as a part of ND Votes’ Pizza, Pop and Politics Series.
Beyerlein argued that protest is central to all democracies.
“Protest and democracy go together like America and apple pie,” he said. “Protest flourished in American democracy — the women’s suffrage movement, textile workers protest … the civil rights movement of the 1960s.”
Beyerlin also commented upon the recent surge in protests in the United States.
“This recent wave of protests has the largest number of participants that at least we have records of, in American history,” he said. “The idea is that protest size signals to elected officials that a majority of citizens are behind a protest and the cause of the protest.”
Mische added that this wave of protests was also a global phenomenon.
“In the years since [the global financial crisis] protests have erupted across the world, austerity protests in Greece, protest relates to Israel’s occupation [of Palestine],” she said.
According to Mische, protest is not just necessary to creating democracies, as seen with the Boston Tea Party and the Storming of the Bastille in Revolutionary France, but is also crucial in solidifying these democracies.
“The expansion of democracy has depended on protests of various sorts — they contribute to democratic accountability,” she said. “Once you have a democracy it’s not set, regimes can become more or less democratic over time.”
After the professors spoke, the student activists detailed their movements and reasons for protesting.
Drumm began by discussing the ideals that drive Right to Life.
“We exist as a club because we believe all life has innate worth. However society has the tendency to label some lives as not worth living — we see it as our duty to change this mindset,” she said. “As a club we stand for the most vulnerable in society. This includes refugees, the young mother, the unborn child, the mentally disabled, the elderly and those who, in many circumstances, might not be able to demonstrate for themselves.”
Drumm stressed the importance of the March for Life, which the club participates in every year in Washington, D.C., in getting the club’s message across.
“It has been one of the most effective ways for us to get our message across,” she said. “This year alone we were interviewed for four newspapers, one of them being the New York Times, and ever since coming back to campus there’s been a viewpoint in The Observer talking about our club or if you’re pro-life and pro-choice.”
Pedroza then discussed the structure of We Stand For.
“We Stand For is a coalition of a large group of people who have many different ideas and stand for social justice,” she said.
This coalition, which was founded after President Trump’s election, gave students a way to speak out against what they saw as unjust.
“One of the reasons why I demonstrated … it was a way to place my anger and frustration in a constructive way,” Pedroza said. “I think demonstrating gives people a chance to come together. As people who care about issues we can communicate with each other and organize.”