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Social Justice Movements in Trump's America

The drive to Washington DC on January 21, 2017 has seared itself in my memory as the first time in my life that I could recognize history taking place before my eyes. I could feel the importance of the moment as our bus drew closer to the city, the roads becoming completely clogged, every lane coming to a full stop. This was the first time that traffic had actually filled me with optimism. The vehicles driving toward the capital were full of cleverly written signs, transparent backpacks, and neon-pink knit hats, and I knew that I was about to be part of something bigger than anything I had ever been involved in.

Hundreds of thousands of people gather in Washington DC for the 2017 Women's March - PHOTOGRAPHER: RUTH FREMSON (THE NEW YORK TIMES)

The experience of walking alongside the hundreds of thousands of protesters who joined the Women’s March and the knowledge that millions around the world joined us in their own demonstrations revealed to me the power of the combined dissent of a vocal group of people. In the past few years, there has been a renewed belief in the power of peaceful demonstration in the U.S. Civil disobedience has become the tool of choice to fight the new presidential admin and the extreme, controversial voices that now have a platform to promote their agenda. Validated by the new administration, these individuals have felt emboldened to voice opinions that tend to be discriminatory and bigoted [1]. Although our national conversation has allowed these divisive voices a safe space, the volume of their opinions has provoked a response, inspiring many to take a more active role in social justice movements.

Throughout history, we have been able to witness the sustainable change created through nonviolent dissent. In his book, Non-Violent Resistance, Mahatma Gandhi created a comprehensive case for peaceful responses to injustice. His writings expand specifically on the concept of nonviolence as a means of decolonization. Gandhi also identifies why peaceful protest is generally more effective than violence and his theories have been a source of inspiration for movements like Martin Luther King’s American civil rights movement, the Women’s suffrage demonstrations, the Palestinian BDS campaign and the South African anti-apartheid civil resistance movement [2]. A lot of his confidence in nonviolence stemmed from his spiritual beliefs, but his arguments remain structured, logical, and have proved to be accurate. He stresses the importance of means and ends, claiming that while we can control the means by which we achieve something, we can never directly control the ends. He expands upon the theory, explaining: “by using similar [violent] means, we can only get the same thing that they got…We reap exactly what we sow” [3]. Gandhi states that within violent conflict, any means are considered necessary as long as the ultimate end is victory and that indifference toward the way in which victory is achieved only results in more violence. He goes on to stress that “in the majority of cases, if not indeed in all, the force of love and pity is infinitely greater than the force of arms” [4]. He believed that through peaceful, persuasive dissent, protesters can express their demands more clearly, allowing them the possibility of creating real, sustainable change.

Recently, we have witnessed the impact that a gathering of passionate individuals can have on our national conversation. The renewed faith in the power of marches and protests has led to the rise of causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March, the Me Too movement, and the March for Our Lives. With the help of social media, these campaigns have gained momentum and many have taken to the street in organized protest. Every one of these movements has captured the world’s attention and has provoked meaningful discussion by organizing compelling demonstrations and appealing to U.S. legislators to create change.

One of the most remarkable examples of this recent surge in social justice causes is the March for Our Lives movement. Young people have been at the forefront of the movement and have inspired the world with their stories, leading the most recent push for gun control legislation. The impact of their demonstration methods has been felt across the world, and they have been able to gain widespread international support from states who have benefited from tighter gun control regulations [5]. Navigating the U.S. gun control discussion is tedious and difficult and the people involved in this movement have found themselves in the middle of a complex, heated debate. Despite the furious backlash from pro-gun activists and the NRA, ranging from attempts to discredit them by calling them naive to claims that they are crisis actors paid by the left, these young activists have held strong to their positions. Amid the hyper-partisan politics surrounding this debate, the movement has helped the Nation’s conversation about gun control out of the standstill it has been in for decades.

Protesters at the March for Our Lives Rally on March 24th - GETTY IMAGES

From both the theories of political thinkers like Gandhi and from tangible historical evidence of successful nonviolent protest, there is conclusive proof that freedom, justice and equality can be achieved through nonviolent means, which has been shown to be essential to achieving sustainable peace and sustainable development. The recent surge of social justice movements in the U.S. is a remarkable example of how passionate citizens who recognize their ability to express their frustrations in nonviolent ways can have an impact on actual government decisions. These movements have succeeded in providing many with a platform from which to tell their stories and share their perspectives. Many are just starting to realize the influence these movements can have and their momentum does not seem likely to slow down any time soon.


[1] “How a Cultural Revolt against “political Correctness” Helped Launch Trump into the Presidency.” USAPP. March 05, 2018. Accessed July 02, 2018.

[2] Reinbold, David. “The Anti-Apartheid Struggle in South Africa (1912–1992).” ICNC. June 05, 2018. Accessed July 02, 2018.

[3] Gandhi. Non-violent Resistance. 1961.

[4] Gandhi. Non-violent Resistance. 1961.

[5] Andone, Dakin, and Amanda Jackson. “The March for Our Lives Isn’t Just Happening in the United States.” CNN. March 24, 2018. Accessed July 01, 2018.

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