There were protests in 40 cities here in Slovakia, yet we also heard lots of people saying: ‘There’s no point’. ‘It won’t change anything’. ‘Protesting doesn’t have any effect’.
If you see ‘useful’ as in: ‘We go and protest once and the next day we have a new government and everything is fixed,’ no, then it’s not useful to go and protest.
But there are many positive effects that are important in the short term and in the long term, even if it’s not always obvious:
- the organizers of the big protest in Bratislava, on Friday, the 9th of March, was organized by young people. Those young people got prominent speakers, like the famous Slovak actor, Roth, and the famous cleric Bezak, plus one of the victims mothers to come and speak. The experience that these organisers are getting by doing this is invaluable. This can’t be underestimated. Although some of the speeches at the protest lacked the necessary vigor or eloquence to really inspire, these people are LEARNING. They are learning so much more about the game of politics by organizing and participating in this then they ever could reading even the best political books sitting at home… Who knows? Maybe some of the organizers will be ministers in ten years or maybe only in twenty years. It’s by participating that you give these young idealists a chance to grow and gain experience. That’s very useful.
- It gives you the feeling that you are not alone. Often we think we’re the only ones who are bugged by the state of things. During a protest you see that there are actually lots of people who are also not happy about corruption, political murders, maffia connections of the government, etc. If nothing else, it gives you a boost in morale, and you give others a boost, just by being there.
- It familiarizes the public with politically active people from all kinds of sectors, like the cultural world, educational world, healthcare, etc, that they would otherwise never hear of.
- The press simply can’t ignore 25,000 people shouting something in the middle of the city. They will write about it. In Slovakia the free and more critical press were already firing off one article after the other against the government, but even newspapers that side with the government had to write about it. (It was interesting to see how Pravda, which means ‘truth’ in old communist style, was siding with Fico and the government in subtle ways)
- It puts Slovakia on the map. Hey, my mum called me from Belgium to say that Slovakia was on the evening news, and she said she was impressed by how peaceful the protests were. These protests made Slovakia look good, very good, in part because they were so peaceful. There was a solemn atmosphere at the protests.
- It really does give a signal to malignant people that they can’t hide everything that they do, that they can lull themselves into a dangerous feeling of impunity. People do care and they show that they care by standing out in the cold, when they could do lots of things that, yes, are more fun. I would also rather play a board game like Civilization with my friends than go to the protest. As it happens, I combined the two that day 😉 But I get it, it’s not a fun thing to do, to go there, on a Friday night, after work, tired, and then have to listen to very sad things. So when people do this, something they don’t get paid for and gain nothing from in any direct sense, it sends a very important signal. Something is up when people do this, because they are sacrificing their most valuable commodity: time.
So yes, these protests are useful. There’s no reason to be defeatist and to discourage people who, motivated by their values and concern for others and society, go there. It doesn’t lead to huge immediate changes for the better, but it does have important positive effects. They are a vital part of a healthy democracy, to say protests are useless, is to destroy your own political power.