Opinion | Op-eds

The fault in our protests

In the early hours of Nov. 10, 2016, I was drifting off to sleep when I began to hear repeated chants of “Fuck Donald Trump” through my window.

The chants that kept me awake that night were the responses of my peers, enraged at the news that Donald Trump was to be the 45th president of the United States. Protests against Trump on campus have continued and are usually characterized by words such as “not my president.” Yet, I found myself thinking—were the protests held on Columbia’s campus following the election of Donald Trump effective in making any positive changes?

The group outcries, which were initially aimed at supporting fellow students through the difficult time, developed into full-blown protests. In the days following the election, individual protests were scattered across campus. Walking from class one day, I witnessed a man protesting atop the roof of Dodge Hall, holding a sign that read, “Not My President,” as he repeated, “Fuck Donald Trump.” Protests at other universities echoed the same chants. As seen in the Washington Post on Nov. 9, hundreds of students at the University of Pittsburgh were heard shouting “No KKK! No fascist USA! No Trump!”

Columbia is famous for its nearly homogenous liberal population. Many college campuses follow suit, as they are dominated by young, well-educated liberals. College demographics today seem to exemplify the commonly known phrase, “If you’re not a liberal at 22, you have no heart,” in that while many students are diverse in origin, most seem to hold strikingly similar beliefs. Following the election, many of my peers struggled to accept the outcome. While the legitimacy of Trump’s win has been contested recently by some in light of potential Russian interference, by most accounts Trump won the election fairly by capturing the majority of the 538 available electoral votes. Regardless, he will—popular vote or not—be taking office this week.

There seems to be a silent minority of people on campus with beliefs that coincide with Trump’s, and although the beliefs of the vast majority of students here starkly contrast with them, we must be respectful of our differences in order to create the community that Columbia strives for. The failure to recognize pro-Trump beliefs led primarily to the unpredicted Trump election and the underestimation of his amount of supporters.

Now, I am profoundly disturbed by the thought of a Trump presidency as much as the next Columbia student; however, the reality is that he will be our president. People who protest the sheer existence of the American electoral system, as some have, saying that they refuse to accept Trump as their president, further divide an already fiercely polarized electorate. Doing so is ultimately unproductive.

Many of the protests held in the wake of the election were unorganized, revolved around strong messages against Trump, and few argued for anything that could potentially make a positive change. We must instead focus our efforts on making positive change on relevant issues we see as important during this inevitable transition of power.

If the way that our fellow college students are currently protesting is inefficient, then how should protests on Columbia be altered to be more effective? Protests must be more organized. Many recent protests have consisted of an array of statements but have had a lack of focus on actions.

Rather than simply stating our beliefs, we ought to instead use our protests to propose methods through which our goals can be realized.

The sanctuary campus walkout held on Nov. 16 was centered on enacting change within Columbia’s administration, encouraging it to adopt policies to protect students of undocumented immigrant status and minorities from the political goals of Donald Trump. This protest was successful because it had specific objectives, was organized, and protested something tangible. Protesting something as large as the electoral system to the point where it appears intangible is unlikely to make an impact—at least not in a timely and reasonable manner. However, protesting in favor of a sanctuary campus within the campus community is a reasonable goal, and it sent a message to the authority figures on campus.

I encourage students engaging in future protests to look at the issues they are addressing with an open mind. Protesters with narrow-minded perspectives are unlikely to ignite positive changes. Set forth goals for your protests, goals that have the potential to be realized.

The author is a first-year in Columbia College. She is also a three-season athlete as a member of Columbia’s cross country and track and field teams.

To respond to this letter to the editor or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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