Beyond protests—ways to get involved in social movements

Photo+by+Shannon+Garrido

Photo: By Shannon Garrido

Photo by Shannon Garrido

By Ana Sophia Garcia-Cubas Assemat, Copyeditor

We all know how it goes.

Something bad happens (again). A shooting. A hurricane. A new way to restrict reproductive rights. We get filled with that nauseating combination of anger and helplessness. We’re doomscrolling. We’re anxious. We think that there’s gotta be some way we can help. 

Or nothing happens at a time where something clearly needs to be changed. 

It seems like no one is moving a finger to help solve the water crisis in Flint, MI, or in Jackson, MS or in Baltimore, MD—all cities that are majority Black and brown communities. Rent prices soar while the minimum wage remains plastered to the ground like week-old roadkill. Someone profits from someone else having to ration their insulin so they can afford to eat—even though insulin only costs two to eight dollars to produce.

So what do we do? We build community. We check in on the people we know who are most affected. We organize—be it through mutual aid, relief funds, or support networks. And maybe after a day or an hour, to our relief, someone tells us there will be a protest. Six o’clock in front of the nearby government building. Be there or be square.

These protests are usually organized by local activist groups, and to our convenience, most of them pass through Emerson either on their way to the City Hall or the Massachusetts State House.

While protesting is a great way to mobilize and make your voice heard, it is not the only—or most accessible—way to resist. Many factors can complicate someone’s ability to attend a protest, none of which diminish someone’s commitment to a cause. However, these factors must be considered if we truly seek to promote the equity, empathy, and change that these social movements represent. It’s important to understand that with protests—just like in every other area of society—there are higher stakes for the marginalized than there are for the objectively privileged. 

Protesting comes with an increased risk to some marginalized groups—risks that simply aren’t there for others. These risks—which include immigration status, lack of accessibility and accommodations, and the ever-looming threat of police brutality—can make protesting incredibly difficult. 

If an undocumented person is arrested at a protest, they face near-certain deportation. The Trump administration made it legal for ICE and CBP to assist law enforcement during protests. Even when there aren’t immigration officers on-scene, if there is any suspicion of an individual being an immigrant, often based on a person’s accent or race, during an arrest, immigration officers are contacted regardless of whether the person is documented or not. Even immigrants with documents, be it a green card or a visa, can face deportation if they are charged with a crime

While a considerable number of protests are small and peaceful, there is always the risk of law enforcement escalating the situation, and it is never certain that a protest won’t turn into a conflict. As a green card holder, I personally have not attended any protests in my time at Emerson for exactly this reason. I know I can make a difference without putting my future and safety at risk.

When it comes to accessibility, a lack of accommodations, such as an American Sign Language interpreter for speeches, can hinder someone’s ability to participate in a protest. One should also keep accessibility in mind when planning a marching path, as commonplace infrastructure like ramps and cobblestone streets, may impede a wheelchair user’s ability to participate. 

Unfortunately, protesting is like most other aspects of society in the sense that accessibility is often overlooked when disabled people aren’t involved with the organizing of the event itself. Ableism runs deep, and the assumption of able-bodiedness can exclude disabled people from civic participation.

Different disabilities may bring about specific concerns when it comes to dealing with law enforcement, too. People have been denied medication when in police custody—diabetic people in particular have been denied insulin. As the pandemic endures, people not wearing a mask during a protest may put immunocompromised attendees at serious risk. 

When it comes to the most common image seen during a protest—people marching holding banners with both hands over their heads—some participants may need to modify their demonstration. Such modifications include  attaching signs to mobility aids in a way that doesn’t impede their function. Different disabilities raise different concerns, some of which may make protesting much more difficult than it needs to be, or even impossible. 

It’s very important to note that protesting often involves putting yourself in the line of fire—unfortunately, sometimes literally. 

The Black Lives Matter marches in 2020 taught us law enforcement will never hesitate to enact the violence of the state on protestors, especially if they are people of color. This violence—like the white supremacy that permeates the fabric of the US—has a long history that can be traced back to the violence of settler colonialism and chattel slavery. 

For as long as there has been state violence there have been people fighting against it, and this fight has taken myriad forms. Protesting is only one of them, and it comes with an increased threat of violence to marginalized communities. 

To contrast two movements that are often compared, police brutality was a lot more prevalent during the civil rights protests than it was during the BLM protests. Considering just how much the police brutalized civil rights protestors, using the civil rights as a standard sets a pretty low bar for police to clear. Yes, the outcome of a protest is a lot less violent now than it was back then, but that does not mean that police violence should be accepted. 

We should not refuse anyone the right to protect themselves from situations where they may face violence. Audre Lorde was one of the first to postulate self-care and self-preservation as a revolutionary act when it comes to marginalized people whose ability to thrive—to survive—is constantly being hindered by the state. 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare,” Lorde said in her essay “A Burst of Light.”

Those who can and choose to protest are brave, no question about it. But the opposite is not true. Protesting is an act of bravery, but surviving is an act of resistance, too. Marginalized people who can’t or don’t protest may turn their energies elsewhere. 

Seeing how protesting is inaccessible to many, it’s time to open up the conversation about taking action. Resistance can take many forms, and it’s important to consider which form can best fit your community and the movement. So what are some ways you can support a cause if you are unable to attend a protest?

There are thousands of people and communities out there that are supporting one another and creating a space where they can better see the type of world they want to live in. If you’re interested in a particular cause, do some research. Getting involved is often as easy as asking, “What can I do to help?” 

The Boston area has some great organizing and mutual aid networks, and a lot of them rely on platforms like Instagram to connect to the community. The Freedom Fighters Coalition has a goal “to unite as many different activists, community organizers, or even social action organizations, to unite all of them to get them on one unified front to combat racism, other forms of oppression and other social injustices.” 

They frequently share calls for mutual aid on their Instagram (@ffcof2020), and have been pushing back against the rising neo-Nazi movements in the Boston area. They also share information on upcoming demonstrations. 

While we should continue to work toward accessible protests, we must also  remain aware that no social movement accomplished its goals fighting only on one front. 

Those who can’t or don’t participate in public demonstrations can still support whatever movement they wish to participate in. Protesting as a political act should be viable for those who wish to participate but are—as of now—excluded, but we should not ignore the ways we can show up for our communities outside of times of crisis.

I am only one person, and I am by no means an activist, but here are some great resources: 

Jamaica Plain Community Fridge 

Roslindale Community Fridge 

Dorchester Community Fridge 

Allston/Brighton Community Fridges 

Community gardening and food insecurity:

Cambridge City Growers

Theater for social justice:

Company One

Homelessness:

Breaktime 

St. Francis House