The protests over the election are waning. Reactions varied. The genuinely perplexed scratched their heads and wanted to know — Why are they protesting? The election’s over. Do they think they can reverse it? What’s the point?
Other reactions have been less kind. In fact, they’ve fallen somewhere on the continuum between condescending and rude.
“They’re spoiled brats.”
“They’re the trophy generation—this is what happens when people are always rewarded.”
“Those babies need to grow up and accept not getting their way.”
“My father went to war at that age—and they’re having fits because their candidate didn’t win.”
Let’s set aside the extreme irony of telling someone to grow up while calling them names. As the resident Millennial expert, I want to answer the question in a way I hope will be helpful. Why are they protesting? What do they hope to gain? What’s the point?
More importantly, what does this have to do with the church? What should our reaction be?
I have a guest here who will give you more firsthand thoughts than I can. She is none of the things mentioned above. She is articulate, passionate, and smart. I am thrilled that Becca Fullerton is allowing me to use her voice on this piece as well.
First, Here are a few things they are not doing it for.
They are not protesting in hopes that Clinton will suddenly be put in the White House. They are (mostly) college students and educated adults. They know how the electoral college works. They think it’s archaic and unfair, but they know how it works.
They are not, for the most part, anti-Trump protesters. They are anti-hate protesters. There is a difference.
They are not violent idiots who don’t even know what they are there for. Media 101 lesson here. Media has one job—to create its own job security. They are not in the business of presenting truth but of presenting whatever will get viewers. This is true whether you believe they are liberally or conservatively biased. Their job is to get views.
If they interview twenty people, they will not show you the nineteen articulate, compassionate, reasonable people with whom they speak. They will put on air the one who says, “Uh, I don’t know. I’m just here to skip class.” Because they know it will keep their party going. They will show you footage of screaming and looting. Because viewers. No one puts the peaceful, smiling, quietly walking people on camera. It’s just not as much fun.
Let’s also go through a primer on protests. There are such things as professional rioters. I know, talk about a job you don’t want to list on your resume, right? These people are infiltrators and trouble makers who go from place to place intending to create chaos. This is also where the media will focus, because it gets them views. It’s news, right?
So all protesters get painted with a brush of foolish violence, and that, of course, makes them infinitely easier to write off rather than listen to. Problem solved. We don’t have to hear what they are saying because of the way we perceive they are saying it.
Except we do.
Because what we ought to realize is that, just like our parents’ generation, they are going to war. They are fighting in the way they know best what seems to be a world with no sense left in it. It takes courage to fight like that, not childishness.
Here are the reasons. The real reasons. And it would behoove us to listen.
Yes, they are protesting because they are hurt, and it is not fair.
This is the first election for many of those young people on the streets. They entered it as most do—with guarded optimism that their votes would count. They were performing their privilege with hope and belief that justice does happen. Then they watched as their first-ever election ended in disbelief and a win by votes counted but not by the numbers that mattered.
It is a heck of a first go round. Most seasoned voters found this one hard to take. Can you even imagine being a first-time voter and having your faith in your country’s system crushed quite that hard, after such an ugly year? Anger is a logical reaction.
As a child I was told that America was good – and I believed it.
On November 9, a girlfriend and I got breakfast and huddled around my phone, each with one headphone, to watch Hillary’s concession speech. When she admonished us to “not grow weary of doing what is good,” I started sobbing – in the middle of a Chick-Fil-A (in hindsight an obviously poor venue for the occasion). Thus began my week of public grief, bursting into tears when the reality of the election would suddenly and unexpectedly wash over me. Honestly, the depth of my pain and disbelief surprised even me. Despite what you may think to the contrary, I am an emotionally mature adult, and I do not under normal circumstances cry while waiting in a doctor’s office or ordering food in a Schlotzky’s.
I have lost elections before – to people that I do not like and do not agree with. But when I woke up on November 9th, it felt like someone very dear to me had died. It felt (and still feels) like something I will learn to live with, but will never, never get over.
We believed that the majority of our nation would want equality and diversity and meticulous planning and basic human decency. And we were right. That morning Hillary Clinton had more votes, a lead that has grown to over 1.6 million people. She received the second most votes in US history. We turned up. We voted. And we were shown irrefutable evidence that the system is broken and undemocratic.
They are protesting for those who don’t dare.
They want to give a voice to people who are frightened and silenced. These students have friends who have been taunted and threatened because of their race, religion, nation of origin, or orientation. It is not a fuzzy political issue for them. It is personal. It’s their roommate, their best friend, their professor’s mixed-race family. The issue has skin on. Those taunts and threats have occurred in the last week, and they are escalating. Everywhere. Yes, in my lovely neighborhood and yours too. Protesters want to tell these bullies that they are seen and their behavior is not OK.
You can tell me this election wasn’t about race. Or gender. I will believe you when you call your senators and tell them that having a self-identified white nationalist advising the president is unacceptable. I’ll believe you when you condemn the nomination of a man who was deemed too racist for the Reagan administration. I’ll believe you when you look at a cabinet comprised of nothing but old white men, and you think, “well, hang on, that doesn’t seem right.”
I’ll believe you when you vociferously oppose religion-based registries and ineffectual torture and “watch lists” of liberal professors. I’ll believe you when the proclamation of nazi slogans in their original German inside federal buildings in D.C. makes you angrier than an actor respectfully addressing the concerns of a nation to their own elected vice president. I want evidence of your benevolence, not memes and propaganda.
Because as it stands now, I do not believe you.
They are protesting a lost truth of who we are.
This generation is the first to be raised in what we thought was a truly post-race era, a group of young people who never gave a thought to allowing those false lines to divide them. They do no even comprehend a mindset that would call another group of people lesser. They are angry that their country would want to reverse that hard-fought truth for them. They are angry because, again, it is personal. People they know and love appear to want it. They are confused as to how that could be.
A guy I knew from high school messaged me after the election. He had seen that I was upset and wanted, in all honesty, to know why. In that message he said, “I know you think he’s a racist and a bigot, but there has to be more, right?” It’s that question that absolutely overwhelms me. I don’t see how we ever fix a dialogue in which you acknowledge the hatred and racism and misogyny but don’t care. A year ago, I thought we disagreed about economic policies and the existence or non-existence of unconscious racial bias. Instead, I’m realizing that I have to convince you all over again that determining the value and capabilities of a human being based on their skin color or their gender or their country of origin is evil. And honestly, the thought of having that argument all over again is exhausting and demoralizing.
They are protesting an atmosphere.
They want to make it clear that their country is a place where people, all people, should feel welcome and safe. They are protesting the attitude that America will only be great when it rids itself of non-Western whites. They are angry that anyone could think such ideas are true and angrier that some already are acting on those ideas. The peaceful protests are an attempt to declare—this is not OK. This is not our America. No matter who is president, this must stop.
So we took to the streets, not to vilify the press or scream for our opponents to be jailed without a trial, but to stand with those who are afraid and to offer into that good night a promise that we will not stand by quietly as people are deported or voting rights are suppressed or marriages are dissolved or women are assaulted or religions are persecuted. We will chant messages of love, as silly and naive as you may find them.
Everyone is welcome here.
We will keep saying it. For four years. For eight years. For the rest of our lives if we have to. Because that is the nation we want.
You can mock us, call us crybabies, but yes, we’re going to grieve. And yes, we’re going to protest. We’re going to protest the appointment of white nationalists. We’re going to protest voter discrimination. We’re going to protest the undermining of our free press. Because while we embrace a democratic contest of ideas in which we disagree about the ways and means, a nation built on hatred and racism is intolerable.
We had better listen. We in the church had better listen. The church, by its tacit or actual support, has lost its credibility with the next generation. I don’t think we comprehend the enormity of this—it is completely gone. There is no trust, no faith, no acceptance. It will be exponentially more difficult to keep the next generation in the church or move them toward it. The ramifications for the church are deep and depressing.
The church must own this if it wishes to move forward. We must unite in refusal to accept the tenets put forth during this campaign—that anyone is fair game for disparagement or ill treatment. No matter whom Christians voted for, we must now stand against the parts of the rhetoric that are so anti-biblical they reek in the noses of the next generation.
Racism. Sexism. Deportation and/or labeling of Muslims, immigrants, Mexicans, or anyone else. Acceptance of sexual predation and harassment in any form.
The church has an unprecedented chance to stand united against these things and prove its identity and worth to the next generation. It is a God-given chance we dare not squander.
Let’s not squander it by wasting our time criticizing young protesters. Let’s find the articulate, compassionate among them and listen instead.
For another excellent viewpoint by a millennial I know, see this.
Please Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of all connected with Theology Mix.