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Regulating protests: Balance between order and disruption

by The Stylus
Tue, Oct 31st 2017 10:00 pm
Elliott LaPoint/EDITORIAL CARTOONIST
The United States is currently experiencing a large movement of protests against a variety of social issues plaguing the country. With this shift in society, we as a nation and as a community need to recognize the importance of this form of expression, and what it needs to function.
Elliott LaPoint/EDITORIAL CARTOONIST The United States is currently experiencing a large movement of protests against a variety of social issues plaguing the country. With this shift in society, we as a nation and as a community need to recognize the importance of this form of expression, and what it needs to function.

We at The Stylus are committed to bringing you the news, the truth, as best we can. To do anything else would ultimately make us ineffective and defunct as a student paper and as a news organization. It is fairly sound logic that if the news does not give you the news, it’s not working, right?

This week we turned that logic to another subject, the process of protesting. It is nigh impossible to deny that in recent years the nation has seen a large uptick not only in protest, but in the way and frequency news organizations around the country cover these protests. Whether it is the case of Ferguson or Charlottesville protests have made a major comeback in the county’s consciousness. Brockport has also had a growing movement to utilize protests as a tool for social change.

What these and many other protests have in common is one of, if not the key, aspect of a protest. They disrupted the natural flow of things around them. That is why they stuck and are sticking in our news outlets, that’s why they’re making headlines.

For a protest to be truly effective, it must cause a disruption, it must be loud, it must be in your face and it must reach out and demand your attention. Otherwise people will fully look the other way, they ignore it, they take a glance at your spectacle but return to their lives with barely a second thought.

We see this on the national level, but we also see this on the local level in Brockport. Like anywhere in the United States, Brockport is not without its divisions, it’s opposing schools of thoughts and the people that hold them. Therefore, protest is a natural resultant of that. However, in recent years, establishments of Brockport both on and off campus have made efforts to corral this idea of protest. They have made efforts to declaw the beast.

When we ignore the news, when we no longer give it the respect it deserves, we get horrific things  like “fake news.” So when we get a movement to stop taking protests seriously, we get a system where people take another step away from each other. We are, in yet another way, unable to communicate.

The Office of Campus Life is in charge of these guidelines on campus, which dictate the way that a lawful assembly is conducted. In the interest of fairness, Brockport is a school like any other, and desires to keep a peaceful and orderly campus rhythm. However, it is the desire and necessity of a protest to disrupt that peace. Having the police closely monitor protesters for behavior and profane language is something contradictory to a protest in itself. However, the two-headed monster hypocrisy shows its face when these same police allow people to display the same behavior towards protestors that they themselves are prohibited from using.

In this day in age, it seems like true disruptive protest is more important than ever, yet we seem to be pushing more and for a “politically correct” way to protest. If people are protesting and you want to quiet them, to silence them, to regulate them any way you can, that’s not a particularly flattering picture you paint of yourself.

The office of Campus Life has a page on brockport.edu that details the nature of the regulations which govern an on-campus protest. Emails have been sent out as well, twice this semester, reminding groups they must follow a specific procedure to even congregate for a protest at all and to alert people of the, “potential temporary increase in noise.” This page also makes explicit that this is not an attempt to infringe on any student freedom to lawfully assemble nor an infringement on their freedom of speech.

While it may be true that none of these regulations legally infringe upon anyone, it nonetheless makes a powerful ideological statement to the protesters, and perhaps worse to the students who bear witness to the protest. When the an email like the one sent to students regarding protests is sent out, it sends a powerful message. When students receive this email and they are warned of an increase in noise, they treat it just so; an increase in noise.

When that is how a protest is presented to them by the institution responsible for their education, they dismiss that protest. It ceases to be a protest and becomes nothing more than noise. In response to that, they treat it just so, they shut their windows, or they shout from their windows for protesters to silence themselves.

The country at large is facing a protest epidemic. People are facing mass arrests and journalists are at risk at protests just for covering them. There is a culture of fear growing large and deep, looming like a storm of the country.

While Brockport could certainly learn to respect the protest’s form and purpose a little more, fear is certainly not what is needed. The ultimate goal of a protest is not to make fear, that only makes things for both sides. Instead it is supposed to a call to attention, a need to talk. 

Protests are supposed to be the interims to conversations. When talking to institutions ceases to work, when they stop taking groups’ needs seriously, protests are a wake-up call. Protests remind the intuitions of the U.S. and of the world, that the people whom they serve protests deserve respectful, genuine attention.

There needs to be a healthy relationship between protesters and police and institutions. Without that things devolve and turn into war instead of addressing the issues. However, they can get along too well. When the police seek to regulate and corral protests, to create relationship to a mother and her rowdy child rather than two groups who need to reach an understanding, once again the purpose of a protest disintergrates.

What protesters are asking for is not absolute chaos. They are asking for disruption to allow their target  demographic to remember that ignoring their issues is not an option. Therefore, the intuitions, like police, should remember that, yes, their job is to maintain order, but their job is not to stifle the flow of give-and-take that is essential to a healthy society. Protest is meant to address a problem, it shouldn’t be the problem itself.

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