Looking as far back as the Boston Tea Party, the United States of America was founded on protest. Our very first amendment was crafted to forever grant the citizens of our nation the ability to peacefully assemble and air their grievances against the state without fear of retaliation. Since then this right has been passionately exercised to achieve many of our most important social progressions.
Women’s suffrage marches and protests along with labor rights actions and unionized strikes made their impact on American history in the early 1900s. The Civil Rights movement helped people of color and other marginalized communities achieve equal status (at least under the law) with heavy use of non-violent protest and peaceful gatherings throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The 1970s saw huge waves of anti-war protesters voicing their outrage towards losing so many people and resources on a losing political war across the globe. It is impossible to tell the story of American history without constantly mentioning protests.
More recently, protests have once again erupted across the nation, with sadly many of the same concerns possibly under attack from the new Trump presidential administration. Many marginalized communities once again feel that their rights have been ignored, impeded on, or will be left not properly addressed under our current government, and so have come together to voice their dissent.
Two of our own California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) members, Dylan Ruan and Brandon Yadegari, were happy to share and speak out on their experiences and motivations for attending some of these recent movements, marches, and protests.
Occupy LAX And Trump’s Travel Ban
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has signed a flurry of executive orders, many aimed at attempting to make good on some of his more controversial campaign promises.
One such order, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, led to nationwide protests against its aim to ban or restrict entry into the US based on nationality.
Dylan Ruan was part of the thousands strong crowd that protested the signing of such a discriminatory order at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). “I have friends overseas that would be affected by this order, and I also felt somewhat compromised as a part of a minority, even if not from one of the targeted countries,” said Ruan. “This whole election was full of anger and hate, and I think it’s important for minorities and those who feel marginalized to come together where they can feel more visible and have a larger voice.”
“Policies such as these directly affect people like me and my family,” said Brandon Yadegari, recent global studies graduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and CSSC member. “My father is Iranian and came here back in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution to escape political strife and religious persecution, much the same as today’s immigrants are trying to do. My mother is Mexican.”
Yadegari goes on to reflect, “It seems like a lot of the current administration’s policies are aimed at those who are ‘different.’ It wasn’t until after I returned from the Occupy LAX action that this interesting thought came to mind: My mother and father would have never met, and I would have never been born if something like this executive order had existed years ago.”
Presidential Memorandums And Standing Rock
In addition to executive orders, the White House has also released numerous presidential memorandums. Memorandums function nearly the same as executive orders, with one of the main differences being memorandums are typically used to direct specific departments or agencies to complete specific tasks. Presidential Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline it orders the US Army Corps of Engineers to expedite actions to review and approve all necessary permits, easements and “such other federal approvals as may be necessary.’ It also sends a clear message of the president’s stance towards the rights of indigenous peoples and the sovereignty of Native American tribes.
Yadegari recently had the opportunity to go to Standing Rock, North Dakota, and lend his assistance to the indigenous peoples protesting and fighting for their rights, but more importantly to them, the future safety of their water. “I felt like I had to go when I saw the chance to. I had been wanting to help in some way and went with another group of organizers bringing donations, supplies, and money to help out,” Yadegari explains. “I think it’s super important, especially for students with their different backgrounds and coming from so many different institutions, to reflect on how they got to such a place, and if they realize they came from a place of privilege to think on that and how it can be used to help others less privileged going forward.”
“I arrived early in November just after the election results were known,” Yadegari said. “Honestly not much changed in the next few days, and the people there felt mostly the same. Construction of the pipeline had been continuing under Obama. The tribes feel both administrations are complicit in this situation, but I do fear there may be greater violence under the incoming administration.”
Halfway across the country, at nearly the same time, Dylan Ruan was attending a noDAPL protest in Washington DC. “I had been following the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) events and decided to go to this protest while I was in Washington, DC. I was excited to hear some of the highlight speakers, including Shailene Woodley, Bill Mckibben, and Bernie Sanders. I took some videos of the protest and speakers and shared them online. I don’t really post updates very often so this ended up getting a lot of responses and opened the door to a lot of conversations I might not have had otherwise,” Ruan said.
It is not always necessary to travel across the country, and there are usually things you can do within your own communities or institutions to help. The Women’s March on January 21, 2017 took place across the nation in hundreds of locations. “I went to show my support personally and to show that there are plenty of men who support women’s causes as well,” Brandon Yadegari said regarding his attendance at the march held in San Luis Obispo.
Boycotts can be another useful tool. “I helped get signatures for a petition to get our bookstore at UCSB to stop purchasing products from certain companies when these companies were found to employ workers in sweatshop conditions. We threatened direct action but got the purchasing redirected without having to,” Yadegari explains, showing how change can be achieved at the local level.
Protests And Purpose
Protests should have a purpose. Whether it be confiscating and throwing tea into a harbor to protest taxation without representation, making an already sluggish airport slower to voice protest over a discriminatory and unconstitutional order, or camping near a river to promote the belief that clean water is more worth protecting than crude oil.
“When we organize we need to be more than just against something, we need to be for something. I attended a not-my-president march as well. I don’t want to downplay people’s frustrations at the time, and I think it was very important for them to have the opportunity to vent, but these marches and protests don’t have the same impact as movements like the women’s march and no DAPL, focusing on women’s rights and health issues, and clean water and marginalized communities,” Ruan said.