Living in the nationís capital has its advantages. I get to see national landmarks so constantly that I am annoyed when people ask me to take them to the Lincoln Memorial. It also desensitizes me to every march, protest or strike of the day. Two weeks ago it was the March for Science, last week it was The Great March for Climate Change (I believe there was a little duplication there, but cool) and this weekend it will be who knows what, oh, right, The Immigrants' March.
But a strike in my hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Monday did hit this cynical Washingtonian.
As you may know, after Puerto Ricoís debt ballooned to a point of no return, the islandís finances were handed over to an oversight board created by Congress last year. Much like the case with President Trump in the mainland, recommendations, changes and appointments are starting to have an impact on the islandís economy and its peopleís bottom line.
Seeing Trump appoint a climate change skeptic to head the Environmental Protection Agency gets people mad and moving. Seeing a federal oversight board cut public employee benefits, increase tax revenue, hike water rates, privatize government operations and directly affect your means to put food on the table gets a country violent. Although I repudiate all violence that took place in Puerto Ricoís financial district, itís understandable ó not to mention convenient for those who wanted to undermine the protest.
Therein lies the problem. Marches are a very frail tactic to raise awareness. A broken window or tear gas thrown and the message suddenly loses all meaning. Take the Womenís March in Washington on Jan. 21. As far as demonstrations go, thereís no beating more than 2 million attendees. But what did it accomplish other than show discontent? Do marches produce tangible results anymore? Some might still believe that. The March for Science on April 22 is being credited for a $2 billion boost for medical research at the National Institutes of Health.
But letís be honest, the science demonstration served to raise awareness, not garner funding. Not to say that it didnít play a part, but it would have been nothing more than a nice gesture had people not testified before Congress, or if campaign ads directed at lawmakers not run.
I went to a very liberal college campus in Rio Piedras, and we were known as the ďstrikersĒ Ö still are. And during my four years there, none of the almost yearly strikes stopped tuition from increasing or funding from being cut.
I remember speaking up at a student assembly at the School of Public Communication when they were voting for yet another strike and saying, ďWhatís the point? Weíre known for doing strikes. From an outside perspective, this just looks like a bunch of whining college kids.Ē
And that still holds true. Who cares about another march or strike or protest? Another one of those in Puerto Rico or Washington is the equivalent of Cher announcing another last tour ó it wonít get more than vague and fleeting acknowledgement.
March, by all means, but be sure to keep the conversation going once the march is done. Civic engagement, more specifically grassroots lobbying, is right now the most powerful tactic citizens have at their disposal. As someone who reads letters from readers every day, I can assure you: If I receive more than three letters on the same issue, Iím paying attention.
Elections have consequences, that much is true. But the fact that your candidate didnít win doesnít change that the winner has a say over the issues that impact your community. So maybe try to do some grassroots lobbying instead of just marching because youíre mad.
Call your representatives. Email them. Tweet at them. Facebook message them. Do they have Snapchat? (How cool is that, though?) Snap at them. In short: Annoy them. And maybe even run for office yourself.
Only 36% of Millennials on social media use it to encourage others to take a political action. Why do you think the One Million Moms group can do things like get TV shows to pull sponsors they deem inappropriate, or get them canceled altogether? Because those moms are persistent. Their efforts donít end with a march, they start with one. From there you create contacts, you build coalitions, and you activate people.
Iím not suggesting you do all that for ridiculous protests like One Million Moms threatening a boycott because the Disney channel aired a gay kiss. How about trying to prevent the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, or pushing for an audit of Puerto Ricoís debt? Thereís so much thatís important ó and canít get done with just a march.