This past week, the University of Maine campus was host to two student-led protests. These events, also including invested community members, touched on relevant issues for the post-secondary student demographic: the Democracy Spring action and cancellation of student debt. Both topics hold great promise to be important to UMaine students.
Yet, word about these protests was sparse in the days leading up to — and following — them. Attendance was minimal: not nearly enough to make the big impact that supporters of the issue would have wanted. The similar unfolding of both events exposes a critical issue for any protest that will occur on the UMaine campus. Students do not take protests seriously, and they do not interact with them how they should.
If we stand for an issue, we cannot be complacent in its promotion. Protests require a certain amount of planning which students have to understand if they wish to hold one. The student body needs ample warning about an event. It needs to be talked about — often. Furthermore, timing cannot be random; we can all agree that protests should not be in the middle of a weekday, while many of us are in class or eating lunch.
Something should be said about the content of protests as well. A protest needs more than signs and people gathering together talking about the surface level of an issue. We need discussion of future action. Advancement is just as — if not more — important than bringing more people into an issue. There is no use in having more people know something if none of them have a plan to change things. If someone wants to hold a protest for any issue, they need to be well-educated in the fine details as well as their plan for moving forward. They don’t need something revolutionary, but having an outline, like future events or further sources, wouldn’t hurt.
The problem is not only in the protest itself. The student body opinion on protests is a jumbled mess of thinking they are meaningless and embarrassing or viewing them as an end-all action that will miraculously change something. Neither viewpoint is conclusive to making honest change in our society. If we avoid the people that have the courage to stand out in public, we betray our own politics. We cannot say that we stand for something and then refuse to foster it when it seems silly or inconvenient.
On the flipside, protests cannot be put on the pedestal of being the highest service to an issue. They have serious merit, which is why they have been a tool for social activists for generations. However, things happen beyond the initial speak-out. This is the substance that we need to think about when advocating for something that we care about. It doesn’t matter that we talk about it if we make no action later. The follow through needs to happen.