Throughout history, protest has been seen through many different lenses. There are those who think a protest is a group of whiny and lazy citizens without jobs who are throwing a tantrum, there is the conflation of violent riots and peaceful protest (yes, there is a difference between protest and riot), and then there is the idea that protest is a means of beginning action to change legislation and minds for equal human rights.
I recently attended the Women’s March on Washington and though the experience was incredibly positive and peaceful, I have received a lot of criticism for going. I will not go into the reasons why, but I do want to focus on the difference between patriotism and protest and whether or not those two ideas are mutually exclusive. The dictionary difference of patriotism is “the quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one’s country.” The dictionary definition for protest is “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.” Something we as an American society has done was put these two terms on a binary and say you can either support and love our country as a patriot, or you can protest what your country is providing you with while also being labeled ungrateful.
Some of our most important cornerstones of freedom that we as Americans celebrate were, in fact, protests. The Boston Tea Party is a protest that opposed the Tea Act which allowed the East India Tea Company to sell their tea at a lower cost, providing the British with even more money. I learned about The Boston Tea Party at an incredibly young age in history class and I think a lot of us remember this event as a bunch of angry white men (the Sons of Liberty) hurling barrels of tea into the sea. Looking further into this event, we see that the colonists, who are often labeled as patriots, stood up against the Parliament. This protest solidified a resistance towards British rule which eventually led to our freedom as a country.
The Women’s Suffrage movement was demonized by men and groups of women alike. The struggle, protest, and resistance women put up against a sexist voting law kick-started the push for women’s rights. Because of these protesters and the difficult journey they faced, including imprisonment and forced feeding, it led to the right for women to vote. Who knows how long it would have taken for our country to establish the 19th amendment without the effort of those women.
The March on Washington is fundamental when thinking about American freedom and liberty. Martin Luther King Jr. is most known for his legacy as a peaceful civil rights activist who died fighting for the freedom of this country’s black population. This event was where he delivered his most iconic speech at the Washington Monument that was a huge catalyst for John. F. Kennedy to finally sign civil rights legislation into law. Those protesters were strong enough to change the entire course of American freedom (there is still such a long way to go-I won’t even start on the privatized prison system and the 13th amendment).
For the sake of keeping this concise, I will not talk about the protests worldwide that have changed history for the better since before America was a country *cough-cough* the Protestant Reformation, to name one. Even in our lifetime, there was Gandhi’s Salt March, South Africa’s National Day of Protest, Tiananmen Square, the Berlin Wall Protests, etc.
The peaceful protests that have been held either by the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March on Washington, and other groups are in response to injustice. They are protesting because they feel silenced and do not have the privilege to be heard as easily as others. Specifically, the Women’s March was held to tell a new government that they will be held accountable for supporting different marginalized groups who were threatened and demeaned during election process with the rhetoric of our new president. The march stood up for women, the Latinx community, the Black community, the LGBTQ community, the disabled community, the Middle-Eastern community, the earth, and other groups who are threatened by desired laws and legislation from those in power.
From what I have researched, the conclusion I have come to is that patriotism and protest do not belong on a binary. There are monumental moments in our American history where protest is patriotism founded on the American belief in freedom. I believe through peace, we can reach justice and equality. I know the following quote might be cheesy, but I believe that it is crucial when understanding how to treat another and how to move forward in times of fear. This quote from the Declaration of Independence was established because protesters and patriots fought for freedom from an oppressive government:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”