Litigation and federal intervention aside, there is one thing that will stick in the minds of citizens regarding the Terri Schiavo fiasco: protest.
People were protesting for Schiavo as if they knew and cared for her. In one instance a man was arrested for trying to bring her communion on Easter Sunday. Another was arrested for trying to bring her a bottle of water.
Outside of the hospital there were all sorts of demonstrations. Citizens would be on their knees dramatizing prayer in a very public and obvious manner. Perhaps this protest brought a different light to protesting, in the sense that it was not the liberal left crying out against a war, but largely the religious right fighting for the preservation of life.
So what exactly is the point of marching in front of a hospital holding up an obvious and perhaps distasteful sign? Why do citizens do it? And is it a logical way to promote reform?
Activists who publicly protest with signs and chants may naturally get caught in a conflict. Are they protesting for positive change because they care about an injustice and the people affected by it, or are they protesting for personal gain, satisfaction or to show the world that they are politically aware and important?
Ultimately, it is the job of the individual taking part in the protest to make sure that he or she is performing public activism for the proper reasons. The first question that should be asked is whether the action will contribute to the ultimate betterment of those who are being fought for.
For example, is protesting social security reform really going to convince Congress and President Bush that personalizing the program is not a sound proposal? On one hand, bringing media attention to obvious dissent may be beneficial, but how persuasive will it be to those in power?
After interviewing many activists on Temple’s campus it became clear that there are many reasons that fuel protesting. The reasons varied from unity with other activists to shedding light on often ignored issues. It appears that most protesters find comfort in the actual protest, so direct change is not necessarily a motive.
Most of the Temple students I interviewed were quick to argue that they protest because a grave injustice is occurring as a result of American globalization.
“If the United States is not living up to its ideals, is not living up to what it preaches, is not living up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, then you feel it is your duty as a patriotic citizen to speak out against injustice,” said Dr. Ralph Young, a Temple history professor and author of the upcoming book, “A Different Drummer.”
The students I talked to all said that there were other ways to protest, but they hesitated to say that they were better.
It might be more effective for students to lead a lifestyle that encourages change, as opposed to making a sign or screaming a chant that does.
Changing consumption habits is a great way to start – this type of protest is private and is an active way of promoting reform. For example, one could boycott McDonald’s in an effort to cut sales so that the company produces healthier food. Or perhaps one could not shop at stores that outsource their jobs to children in Third World countries who work in terrible conditions.
It is not my place to criticize these Temple students, even if their motives are not perfect. They at least have the passion to do what they feel is right. As Young said, it is the obligation of citizens to spur reform and fight for justice.
At the very least, I ask that all protesters and activists analyze what they are doing to make sure it is not for personal gain. The greatest injustice of all is glorifying one’s self and shrouding it under a selfless cloak.