Spending my Friday afternoon getting drenched in rain, plodding through miles of puddles, and shouting until my voice gave out would not typically be my preferred method of winding down after a tough week.
Nor would I usually choose to set an early alarm the very next day and go through the same motions again.
Few things would have been worth catching the fierce flu that seized my notoriously weak immune system, forcing me to miss a day of classes and a week of work. In fact, only one thing would have been worth all this trouble: partaking in something as empowering, liberating and cathartic as a protest.
At times such as these, it seems voices like mine are losing their power and their platform. Each day I feel less in control of my own future. This is terrifying. The solidarity of marching alongside like minded individuals not just in San Luis Obispo, but across the globe, was just what I needed to feel more in control.
Even the sporadic calls of disapproval toward our march could do nothing to spoil my sense of liberation.
While the shouts of those in opposition to our cause were not a shock, I did notice a discouraging pattern of specific remarks that perplexed and irritated me.
“Put up and shut up!”
“Be quiet and deal with it; what you’re doing is pointless!”
Challenges to a march’s cause are expected, even welcome. It is only through free debate that we can discover truth. However, these particular opponents had no interest in free debate. They dared to challenge the legitimacy of our peaceful march’s very existence. This unwarranted repudiation is undemocratic, un-American and certainly unpatriotic.
These shouts urge us to be complacent. To passively accept that we have no power in changing a reality that has imposed itself upon us against our will. To give up fighting for causes we have been committed to for years. To comply with these orders would be an insult to our freedom of choice, and the cornerstone of democracy as a whole.
Questioning the status quo is America’s core virtue. Nearly every celebrated milestone in this country was achieved after the repressed minority protested against the majority’s abuse. From the birth of this nation via the overthrow of Britain’s suffocating rule, to establishing long overdue equality of voting rights regardless of race or gender, America achieves progress through protest. American independence, emancipation, women’s suffrage, gay marriage and many other progressive reforms all began as fringe movements. What the majority once saw as radical has the tendency to become virtuous through the lens of hindsight.
It is through the ruckus gathering of protests that causes gain visibility, reaching out to those who may not realize their own “fringe” view had so much support.
There are so many movements today that remind me of the inspiring activism I used to read about in history books. I yearn to have been alive to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak, or witness firsthand one of my favorite artists perform the iconic protest music of the 1960s. This country’s history has confirmed to me that movements such as Black Lives Matter, No Dakota Access Pipeline and the Women’s March that echo those I used to read about. They allow me the opportunity to take an active role in the democratic process that makes this country better.
The resistance to the movements that I witnessed is no different than those protestors always face. Accusations of causing further division and threatening the current American way of life continue to be thrown at those who raise their voice. The liberty of telling our country when we are not OK with its current state is a privilege that Americans must never be discouraged from exercising.
Just as our nation was built on the back of protestors, it was built in the face of opposition. I am convinced, years from now, with hindsight on our side, the marchers of today will be celebrated for their commitment to challenging the status quo. As has been the case throughout history, protestors — and not their opposition — will be the ones recognized for their benevolence and patriotism.
True patriotism demands striving to improve one’s country. It is this persistent commitment to the bettering of America that can truly make it great.