American history and American culture are both completely intertwined with protest and rebellion. To protest something that you see as injustice in order to fix that injustice is among one of the most patriotic actions you can take. However, that doesn’t mean all protests are constructive or useful. If not handled carefully, protests can easily explode into violence, resulting in unnecessary destruction and injury. Protests can also fail to live up to their intended goal, which for many people recently has been to rally their communities to stand against President Donald Trump’s policies and executive orders. If you really want to oppose Trump, don’t just chant slogans and wave signs; get involved with state and local politics, volunteer with organizations that support causes you believe in and encourage others to do the same.
Consider some of the recent local demonstrations against Trump’s actions. Hundreds of protesters, largely students, came together at UC Riverside on Tuesday, Jan. 31, to oppose Trump’s travel ban. Another protest happened on campus on Thursday, Feb. 2, against the continued construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s great that so many students and other residents of Riverside care enough about our country’s issues that they would gather in protest, but this by itself isn’t enough. A protest does not necessarily result in a tangible benefit for the cause you support. Rather than rely too much on protests, it’d be a better use of your time and energy to go out and support your cause in a more concrete way, such as volunteering, getting involved with local politics or joining advocacy groups that support minority communities.
These two protests, along with all the others that have been organized against Trump since his inauguration, such as the Women’s March on Friday, Jan. 21 and the protests against his travel ban, demonstrate that plenty of people want to oppose Trump’s policies. The challenge now is for protesters to channel their energy in a constructive way, instead of allowing it to go to waste. It’s very easy to come out to a demonstration, wave a sign and holler a few slogans, but if your opposition to Trump starts and ends right there, then you’re only doing the minimum to oppose him, and that’s a disservice to your time, passion and energy. The fact that you care so much about improving your country and protecting your local communities means that you are capable of great things. Although protests can be great and helpful, there’s always room to do something more tangible to advance your cause.
Another reason why we shouldn’t rely exclusively on protests is their volatile nature. Protests are often an expression of the participants’ frustrations. Although protests can be a healthy way of venting frustration, it’s also very easy for protests to turn violent and destructive. A couple of recent examples include the riots in Oregon that followed the election and the chaos in Washington, D.C. during and after the inauguration. Of course, it’s possible that the people who started the violence at these demonstrations were just using the protest as an excuse to cause violence. It’s unfair to criticize peaceful protesters for the actions of those who aren’t peaceful. However, we need to recognize that a peaceful protest can be taken advantage of by those who only want an excuse to smash windows and burn cars. If you rely on protests as your main vehicle for opposing Trump, you take the risk of attracting unnecessary violence, whether at the hands of a few furious protesters, people who only want to loot or sometimes even the police.
Rather than leave your opposition to Trump at the level of chanting slogans and holding up signs, supplement your protests with positive action. For example, if you fear what he might do to women’s rights, get involved with advocacy groups and organizations that stand up for women’s rights and support legislation which will protect those rights. If you feel that he’s going to pull the rug out from underneath the lower classes, get involved with groups and organizations that help the lower classes. Volunteer, donate and get politically active, especially on the state and local level. Reach out, first to your local community and then to communities with which you might not have as much direct involvement, in order to genuinely connect with them and learn their struggle. UCR’s student organizations and clubs are a great place to start.
Above all else, don’t merely be reactionary against Trump; be proactive and contribute to improving our country if you think that Trump is going to ruin it. The act of protesting can be a powerful vehicle for change, but it is nothing to take lightly, and it is best served alongside positive actions which help directly improve our country.