Opinion: The Power of Protest | The American Word

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Opinion: The Power of Protest

Noman Ahmed Ashraf | 3/8/17 12:19pm
| Updated 3/8/17 12:19pm

Jaclyn Merica/American Word Magazine

Last month, I chanted alongside several hundreds of people in front of the Supreme Court, right across from the Capitol in Washington, D.C. I had heard about a protest organized by Democratic senators including Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. The protest was triggered by the so-called Muslim ban, which prevents nationals from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States. It aimed to gather support, show solidarity and inspire people to take action. Protests such as these might be quickly forgotten by the media, but their impact certainly lasts.

That night on the Court’s steps, I felt excited and optimistic. People from all backgrounds were at the protest. There were students, elderly, dressed-up employees, children and a lot of journalists. I felt happy being among those who were willing to resist and voice their opinions. Being from Yemen, a country included in the ban, brought me a lot of anxiety and despair. I knew the ban would affect perceptions between the two cultures and not allow Yemeni youth to pursue success in America. Yet at that very moment, I also felt hope that things could change.

In addition to the chants and expressions of solidarity, the banners in the protest sent powerful messages. They described how each of the banned countries contributes to America. The signs mentioned Iranian doctors, Yemeni coffee, Syrian scientists and Iraqi servicemen. This showed how interconnected nations are and how strongly their people are willing to stand against what is wrong.

As the number of people at the protest increased, more media outlets appeared. While some journalists captured live videos, others interviewed participants. People formed circles in which they clapped, danced and chanted in their loudest voices. When the crowd was very large, the police, on motorbikes, started rolling in circles around the street to disperse protesters. The protesters immediately began to chant: “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and they stood their ground as the police went by. This continued for a few minutes. It felt like a ritual in which police and protesters exchanged possession of the street. The scene demonstrated the power of the people as the chants got louder.

After having an incredible experience at this protest, I decided the next weekend to join as a volunteer in a protest/march called for by an advocacy group that supports the Iran nuclear deal. The group is known as Peace for Iran and it is active with Trump’s presidency, mobilizing people to act and participate in protests. I heard about the protests through social media and I signed up to take part in helping to organize it. There had been a couple of meetings with volunteers gathered to plan for speakers, sound systems and the marching route.

Because we hoped the march would get some attention, we were glad that a large number of media outlets and independent journalists showed up. I ended up at the front of the march holding a banner that said “No Ban, No Wall, Refugees are Welcome.” I had to make sure that the people had energy while chanting but also that they stayed in the designated lane and marched peacefully. Being an organizer made me feel accomplished because I was not only acting on my civic rights, but also taking part in assisting others to make the protest a success.

Being part of a protest allows you to learn and experience a lot. It shows you how close people are despite their differences. Moreover, it gives you a sense of responsibility as you realize the power you possess. My experience protesting taught me that people are powerful and not everyone will submit to the current situation.

Within a few days, a federal judge halted the travel ban making the executive order invalid. Resisting in its various forms, whether it was deleting an app, joining a protest, closure of shops, or simply calling your legislators is vitally important. Collective action is a simple political move but it can bring change. Some of the victories include the resignation of Uber’s CEO, Nordstrom stores cutting ties with Ivanka Trump’s products and UC Berkeley students stopping a right-wing extremist from giving a talk at their campus. Those achievements might sound small compared to the large scale crisis that the country is facing, but at least Trump’s camp will now understand that the next four years will not be all roses and sunshine.