The University of Toronto Mississauga’s newspaper, The Medium, recently featured two of our faculty members – Professors Sida Liu and David Pettinicchio – addressing the role and effectiveness of political protest. You can read the entire article online. We have posted an excerpt here.
Are protests effective?
A rise in the number of widespread protests has occurred
Aisha Malik and Mahmoud Sarouji.
Feb. 13, 2017
If you have been following the news lately, it’s hard to miss the abundance of protests and demonstrations occurring globally…
…But are protests effective? I contacted sociology professor Sida Liu, whose focus includes sociology of law, globalization, and social theory among others.
Liu explained that protests are an important factor of a democratic society. The protests in the U.S. not only show discontent with the president, but also reflect on larger global concerns, such as discrimination and the rise of xenophobia. Liu stated, “Skeptics would say that these protests are futile when a government is not listening and a president is too busy tweeting, but they at least raise the collective consciousness of people regarding some vital aspects of our social and political life.”
He went on to explain that protests connect over time, and sometimes only manifest after a longer period of time. Protests rarely have an immediate effect, but they are not isolated events either; rather, they need time to become evident.
In regards to solidarity marches for the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, Liu said that they “demonstrate the Canadian society’s openness, diversity, and care for religious and ethnic minority groups.” They also allow communities to come out and condemn violence against innocent and unarmed individuals.
Liu cited Émile Durkheim, a founding father of sociology who argued, “Punishment on crimes is an indicator of the solidarity of a society.” He further explained, “In this sense, solidarity marches also constitute a form of resistance to the symbolic and physical violence of gender and racial discrimination exercised by xenophobic white males.”
Sociology professor David Pettinicchio, whose focuses include political sociology, social policy, and social movements, also spoke of the impact a protest can have.
Pettinicchio explained that protests allow awareness of issues that don’t seem to be focused on by political leaders. Political activism is important especially now. He stated that “protests help galvanize people around important issues and they can indirectly shape policy directions.
“[Protests] alone may not be enough. For mobilization to be successful moving forward, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives, as well as the use of a multi-pronged approach that can include direct action, as well as systematic efforts to monitor policy, contact policymakers, and for regular citizens to remain engaged in the political process in the long run,” he continued. “The effectiveness relies on unity of ‘political elites’ movement and organizational leaders, activists and regular citizens.”