How effective can political protests really be?

argues that if they want to be effective, anti-Trump protestors will have to learn from the mistakes of the Black Lives Matter movement

Credit: Chris Wieland

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. Nearly three hundred years later, Edmund Burke’s words still resonate in civil society, legitimising support of protests, particularly during the second half of the 20th Century as decolonisation and racial and gender equality became more fervently protested for. Nonetheless, these infamous words are entering a neo-renaissance with the rise of populism, in which much of western liberal society are striking back against austerity, racism and general degeneracy amongst civilised society. However, every time a new swathe of protests occurs many sceptics question whether these new protests will actually cause major political change. Scepticism has been further catalysed by post-truth revellers who dominate Donald Trump’s political staff and are continually given a stage to address their populist supporting beliefs. This scepticism is actually reinforced by the inability of Black Lives Matter protests to cause considerable political change, despite effectively capturing the public imagination.

The failure of the BLM movement is categorised by its reluctance to create a centralised body with a charismatic figurehead. This has ultimately caused its ineffectiveness to prevail over the potential fruitfulness of greater global and local racial equality that billions of people yearn to see. Furthermore this explains the success of the civil rights movement during the 1960s as with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as the figurehead of the organisation, political change was guaranteed. Nevertheless as CNN correspondent John Blake argues, the assassination of King in 1968 caused the civil rights movement to stagnate and was ultimately unable to recover, highlighting the negative aspects of having a leader of a movement. In addition, the decision to create an equal movement with no figurehead is focal as it depicts the equality that the campaign drive for and as a grassroots organisation with no figurehead, its message as a collective is arguably stronger. Moreover BLM can ultimately achieve the unparalleled political change, such as the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations did, though a long term greater cross sectional support of society is essential to replicate the anti-Vietnam war protests. Yet, this can only truly happen if all protests against the police remain peaceful; the black church is mobilised; and the language of white America is used as these tactics were used by in the 1960s and show why it was so successful.

Therefore, this raises the question of whether these new mass, worldwide protests, like BLM and those against President Trump’s unconstitutional executive orders will cause better political change. If they are to, it is clear that continual demonstrations against his administration and institutional racism are necessary. The question that whether these new protests will work in causing political change is undeterminable, although it is clear that if these protests are to work a greater organisational structure and mass participation from society is essential to stop evil from prevailing. Otherwise they will run in parallel to the junior doctors strikes of 2016, which had very little effect in changing political policy.