Ahead of the American holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – the radical Southern preacher and activist who in his lifetime organized and participated in many marches, including the infamous 1963 convening on Washington, D.C. – a familiar and fair question has re-emerged as an anchor in conversation among the masses: Is marching in the streets for justice, or to show dissent, a political act from a bygone era?
Some argue that the problems of the 2stt Century – problems not exclusive to this time period but ones whose life cycle appear infinite – requires much more bold, aggressive, less passive and predictable, direct actions; those who make that argument wouldn’t be completely wrong. However, protest marches, peaceful or otherwise, garner attention and are, or at least should be, the first line of defense in making a case for or against a policy or cause.
Think about it like a three course meal: the protest march is the appetizer, the main course is the demands and negotiations, and dessert is the reward for engaging. Therefore, the problem isn’t with protest marches, but rather with the lack of follow-up that succeeds them, and at times, the lack of strategy that evades them. Indeed, activist cohorts sometimes are stopping after the first course and then are puzzled and angered at their hunger.
Not completing the whole course is why some people in the court of public opinion rule against protest marches; find them to be of great inconvenience, especially when they block traffic; and argue that a better use of activists’ time would be some sort of effort towards building and leveraging collective political and economic power. The latter is a must, though it mustn’t stand alone, rather it should accompany protest marches, demands made to lawmakers and officials, and the overall voting and civic engagement process.
Obtaining a political victory – the repeal or passing of a law, or the holding of an official hearing for purposes of collecting testimony prior to policy developments – requires a multi-faceted approach, not a single public act of aggression and dissent. Yet, the acts of aggression and dissent can create urgency, and that urgency can be used to build public will and attract a mass of supporters.
But neither mass alone nor simply a march constitutes a movement, yet mass and marches are among the elements that make up the ecosystem needed to pursue and obtain social change. For activism to be truly successful, a culture of both-and rather than either-or must exist. Protest marches are timeless, and needed, but so is strategy, sustainability and substance; all must work together, or a hunger for change will pervade society.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.
Photo courtesy of the author.