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Protests provide voice in political climate

Activism draws attention amid controversy

February 13, 2017

Why do people protest?

When freshman Arafat Ahmed marched alongside others in a protest of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, she felt empowered advocating for the rights of refugees and immigrants.

“Me and my sister both had a sign. We were walking around showing that we support the people that are stuck and not allowed to come here,” Ahmed said

According to Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)public education and communications director Jana Kooren, the Constitution allows people to protest in public places without causing significant disruption.

“The Constitution grants you with the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly,” Kooren said. “If you are in a traditional public forum, which means public sidewalks, public streets, public squares, public space outside of the capitol, those are where you have your strongest protest rates. Generally as long as you’re not interfering with traffic or people on the streets, you can protest whenever you want.”

According to Amber Jones, education organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, protests allow American citizens to voice their opinions.

“The ability to dissent is a powerful right in our political climate, in our democracy that not every country has,” Jones said.

Kooren said larger protests generally require permits unless they are in immediate response to an event. She also said people require permission to protest on private property .

“You don’t have (the) right to protest generally on private property and you can ask to lease. They can allow you to stay on private property, if they ask you to leave you should listen to them,” Kooren said.

Minnesota Women’s March organizer and participant Alena Temple said protesters marched for issues they find important.

“Many of the issues people marched for are issues that the incoming administration appears to be threatening,” Temple said. “For me personally, (I marched for) the rights of immigrants, the rights of women (and) the health care we currently have.”

Sophomore Mohamed Abdirizak said recent protests are attempts to spark political reform.

“It’s just people trying to make a change for their communities because of all that’s going on in America,” Abdirizak said.

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How do they impact society?

According to ACLU executive director Chuck Samuelson, protests are most effective when they are peaceful.

“The most effective (protests) are those marches that are peaceful and in which property is not destroyed and in which there’s an overwhelming mass of humanity,” Samuelson said.

Jones said protest is about bringing awareness to issues, regardless of the manner it is conducted in.

“The idea that there is a right and wrong way of protest takes away the idea of protest, because it’s not about doing things in a right or wrong way,” Jones said. “It’s about calling out the wrongness in our society. If it’s a protest of any kind, it’s bringing greater awareness of a particular issue.”

Junior Sherry Palacios said protests are most effective when the efforts are continuous and strong.

“(Protests are effective) when people keep pushing and don’t just stop once the cops come or anything like that,” Palacios said. “They go to maybe even the government and try to talk to them.”

According to Samuelson, protests create political change through media influence.

“Protest leads to more protest, especially if it gets a lot of media attention,” Samuelson said. “Politicians respond to the media attention and to the press attention about the issues. That was caused by the demonstrations.”

Freshman Emily Keith said expanding knowledge to the public about the protest makes it effective.

“(Protesting helps) other people know that (what they’re protesting) is bad and it can spread person to person to have more impact,” Keith said.

Samuelson said protests may be ineffective if people do not continue to press for change after demonstrations.

“One of the things with protesters is that people, particularly young people, tend not to be able to do the steady ‘hammer hammer on the hard highway’ that needs to be done in order to effectively bring change,” Samuelson said.

Palacios said some protests, however, are ineffective if they are conducted in a negative way.

“(Overall), vandalizing (and) breaking windows — just violence doesn’t really help. It just puts people in jail and creates more chaos than there needs to be,” Palacios said

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How can students get involved?

Samuelson said youths’ activism acts as a motivating factor for others to create change.

“Young people are a great source of hope and inspiration because they’re willing to tackle issues that older people are convinced won’t work,” Samuelson said.

Kooren said students have similar rights to protest as adults.

“You have a right to protest even as a person who is under the age of 18 and you have a right to leave school to protest,” Kooren said. “Your school cannot lock you or force you to stay in school if you would like to attend a protest. However, you will receive the same punishment that you would for skipping school. It is not considered an excused absence to attend a protest.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1969 case Tinker vs. Des Moines that “students or teachers (don’t) shed their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

As long as they don’t cause significant disruption, Kooren said students can peacefully protest during a school day.

“You have the right to protest in school as long as you’re not causing a material or substantial disruption to the school day,” Kooren said.

William Morrow, Echo alum and student body president of UC-Berkley, said Park students should be involved in civic activities.

“St. Louis Park is a community with a history of great civic engagement. It’s important to carry on that participation,” Morrow said. “Even people who are not allowed to vote have a right to express their political opinion.”

According to Samuelson, students can take action beyond protesting to create political change.

“(Students) can do things like work for political parties,” Samuelson said. “They can work for causes that are pushing for referendum or pushing for Constitutional amendments or pushing for laws and demonstrating to get cities to pass ordinances.”

Temple said finding new, different ways to get involved in protests can help with overall significance and effectiveness.

“(The involvement) will be about contacting legislators both at state and national level to help organizations come together,” Temple said. “(Also) attending events that might be out of your comfort zone to find out more about particular issues you find important.”

Sophomore Grace Farley said students can create political change in a variety of ways.

“I know people are really active on social media,” Farley said. “Protests are fun. You can help organizations (like) women’s organizations, refugee organizations, nonprofits and stuff.”

Because of their understanding of current issues, Jones said it is important for youth to speak out.

“So many of our young people have such sophisticated analysis of what’s happening,” Jones said. “I think it’s more important now than ever that youth start to speak up and really talk about the impact of what’s happening.”

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