Ever walk a union picket line, try to get people to sign a petition, held a protest placard or raised your voice in dissent at a curbside rally? If you have, you joined a long, proud line of citizens who trace their lineage through to historical struggles for basic human rights, decent wages, peace, environmental sustainability, global justice and a hundreds of other causes and concerns.
At times sober and serious, at other times joyous and almost carnival-like, protesting has long been part of the social process pushing and prodding humanity forward. Facing off against powerful forces backed by truncheons and water cannons or simply standing witness publicly to your beliefs on a street corner demand both courage and conviction.
Whether in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt or Zuccotti Park in New York City this past year or Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 or along Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 protesters force us, however reluctantly at times, to recognize the need for change. Acceptance of the status quo, a comfortable and unquestioning attitude, may in the short run allow us to avoid the stress of conflict. However if injustice persists or environmental, economic or social problems are ignored the consequences of our inaction may become to our peril impossible to deny and the needed action that much more difficult to muster. Protesters leaven societal transformation.
On December 14th Time magazine stated with regard to their choice of the ‘Protester’ as their 2011 Person of the Year that “Massive and effective street protest” was a global oxymoron until – suddenly, shockingly – starting exactly a year ago, it became the defining trope of our times. And the protester once again became a maker of history.” This year appears to be beginning where the last left off.
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and author, writing in the National Catholic Reporter on Dec. 8, 2011, called attention to the need for the emergence of an inter-generational response to the challenges we are facing as a global community today. Sister Joan recently joined the Organizing Committee of the Council of Elders forming in the United States. She shared in her article their statement of solidarity which reads in part “As veterans of the Civil Rights, Women’s, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ, Immigrant Justice, labour rights and other movements … we are convinced that Occupy Wall Street is a continuation, a deepening and expansion of the determination of the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, just and compassionate society.”
This Council of Elders send delegations of older social-change veterans to OWS protests across the States “to encourage this generation’s young people, who are bringing to consciousness a national awareness that our wealth is in our people and our resources, well developed and well used, not in our banks.
“Most of all,” Sister Chittister noted, “this new Council of Elders has something to say about patience: Grace Boggs, now 96 and author of The Next American Revolution, writes to all those with an Occupier’s heart: “We must reflect in our communities on why these systems have become so dysfunctional and what we need to do … to create new systems and then decide on appropriate local and national actions. … Revolutions take Time!!! Progress does not take place in straight lines.”
Needed changes in the Yukon require our voices and our action as well. May our 2012 be peace and protest filled.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.