Citizens’ ability to express their opinions openly and enact changes in laws and other policies is a very, very powerful one, the extent of which many people never realize, and these powers are the building blocks on which democracy is formed. Some people take advantage of it, and some people live and die never having known the power of their voice. Knowledge and application of this power is one of the most important aspects of the United States government and democracies everywhere. Democracy in America, over the last few centuries, and in the last several decades especially, has been a tool used by the American people to challenge a government that threatens what is considered balance, the definition of which is constantly changing over time as different, long-existing issues resurface and take the forefront of political debate; just as times change, so do the general values and opinions of the public. A democracy can not and will not exist without its people recognizing and utilizing their own voices.
The things that spur these battles of people vs. government and people vs. people are catastrophic events (this is an idea that gives evidence to the notion that people are most often morally forced into action by immediate consequences), oppression, long-imposed laws that are found to be unfair, a vast, maybe even incalculable, number of reasons.
Based on the United States’ history, the success or failure of a social movement hinges on one thing: personification. In tragedy, the face of the dearly departed. In lawmaking, maybe what most resonates with people involved in the cause is certain group of people that have been treated unfairly because of a rule.
Take, for example, the Civil Rights Movement, one of the most famous in American history, and still extremely relevant to modern life. Because of the persisting struggle of African Americans in this country, the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and all it stands for remain on the forefront of the American conscience. During the fifties and sixties, when the CRM was at its peak, millions of people all across America, both black and white (and many people of other races), rallied together to support the idea of equality for all people. The faces that are now nationally recognized for their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement go hand in hand with the movement itself: one can not be mentioned without also mentioning the other. The faces of the Civil Rights Movement are plenty, perhaps too many to count if the logic is followed that anyone who ever participated in even one of the many protests and activities is considered a ‘face of the movement.’ One of its most recognized faces is Martin Luther King (MLK), an activist leader and now a national icon for all people because of his charisma and leadership abilities. Although African Americans are still fighting for their rights to this day, and probably will continue that fight for a long time to come, great, great progress was made many years ago during the height of the CRM. Because there were so many loved faces in the CRM, such as MLK, Rosa Parks, Marion S. Barry and many others, the movement made huge strides in America.
As black Americans demanded their rights in this country, there was another battle raging: Puerto Ricans and Latinos/a fighting for their civil rights. Protests emerged in many areas in America, in major cities like Chicago and New York, mostly young people joining in the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence. In the early seventies, The Young Lords, an activist group with a militant nature, organized protests and other activities in the fight for Puerto Ricans’ independence, and their cause gained popularity because of the humanizing effect their young faces had on the public, even though their group eventually was washed away.
Recent protests are no different from most throughout history. Some death or other major event sends our citizens into an emotional righteous rage and in response, they fight whatever was the cause for that unjust incident.