Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Shut up, let people protest in black!

Published:Thursday | February 9, 2017 | 2:00 AM

People can be so tiring with their pessimism and their consistent ability to throw cold water on any attempt at collective activism. Why do they continue to silence and imprison us with their hopelessness?

How can people who so easily applaud protests in places like America, and who religiously show solidarity through Facebook filters be so quick to oppose, to put down those individuals in their own country who decide to act? Are these not the same people who complain bitterly, who berate Jamaicans about their seeming inaction? What do we want, really?

Earlier this week, there was a lot of debate about wearing black as a form of protest towards ending rape and other forms of sexual abuse against women and girls. They felt it would do nothing.

Here's the thing about protests and other forms of activism - they do not solve the problem. They contribute to addressing an issue, and sometimes help to make change happen a little faster.

I'm not sure why people believe that anyone would think wearing black to protest, to stand up against rape and other forms of sexual violence and abuse would solve the problem at all.

What it does is provide an opportunity for people to come together to show solidarity for a cause. It enables them to act. Protests support the work a handful of others do daily to address issues like corruption, inequality, violence, etc.

It's like writing a post or tweet on Facebook and Twitter about an issue like the government purchasing Outameni with NHT funds. It doesn't make the government less corrupt, does it? It simply helps to facilitate a discussion, raise awareness about corruption and its impact and encourage others to speak out as well. It shows the government we are watching and are holding them accountable.

 

PROTESTS CAN BE CATALYTIC

 

Activism helps to engender change. As I said, some protests can be catalytic and cause change to happen rather quickly. We are not yet at that stage. It will take some time to get to that point but only through more blackout Mondays, more posts on social media, more protests, more discussions in the media and on our verandahs, and more advocacy.

Like many Jamaicans, I wore black on Monday without even knowing who made the recommendation. Here's why:

1. I am fed up.

2. There is ongoing conversation about the issue. Media are playing their role. People are talking.

3. Advocates and others are working.

4. The Sexual Offences Act is being reviewed.

5. I am happy people are taking a stand.

6. I want change!

Protests were never meant to solve an issue. They contribute to addressing a problem.

It's alright if people wear black because it seems like the thing to do. It's alright if they can't explain fully why they are. They need not have the vocabulary of advocates to act. They simply need to know something is wrong and it is their duty to do something that isn't deleterious to the initiatives to address the problem.

It's often through activism that people become (more) committed to a cause, that they learn more, that they take further action. It's through these initiatives that the nation will understand that there are more people standing against corruption, rape, inequality, etc. It's the activism that gives us hope that tomorrow will be better and that better must/will come.

Protests are more attractive than hardcore advocacy which takes lots of time, effort and resources. It's this idea that everyone must commit to things for the long haul why we often refuse to act. When you don a beautifully designed shirt for a cause you do so because it is attractive and decide to show solidarity.

Every time we quip with these ridiculously well-articulated arguments about what a protest does or doesn't do, we become more complicit to the injustices being meted out to persons. Every time we chastise people for joining a protest and not being able to articulate more than feeling it is the right thing to do, we discourage people from acting. We silence them.

Let the advocates and those who are so charged with the responsibility to do the work worry about tomorrow and the long haul, including organising another blackout for people to continue standing up against abuse.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.