Don’t take your rights for granted: Why you should protest in 2024

Don’t take your rights for granted: Why you should protest in 2024

Less and less young people are exercising their First Amendment rights

As I walked across Broadway over to the annual Women’s March Chico “Bigger Than Roe” Day of Action, I didn’t see anyone at first. I anxiously checked my phone over and over again, wondering if I was there at the right time and place. As I kept walking, I stumbled upon a small group of older women, (and a few men), holding cardboard signs and banners. I knew I found the right spot. 

A woman watches the protest. (Julian Manning)

The group was small, the smallest I had ever seen for a women’s march. I was not unfamiliar with this annual event; my mom had brought me to the 2017 march, which was heavily attended. The plaza then was filled, and I marched alongside hundreds of other women of all ages for equal rights. Now, after many years of hiatus, I found myself the youngest at a march in a group of sixteen. 

Because the group was so small, the protest was moved to the right side of the plaza, across from City Hall, to increase visibility. While we were walking, I spoke with Ellen Walker, a member of the Women on Reproductive Defense (WORD) group in Chico.

“I started with this group [WORD] in 2017, and protested before with others… I still do it because we lost rights we fought for, my mom worked at Planned Parenthood in 1940 as we gained more and more [rights], and now we are going back. We don’t want to lose, we need to gain back what we’ve lost.”

We don’t want to lose, we need to gain back what we’ve lost.

— Ellen Walker

What exactly have we, women, lost? 

Since 2017, these major changes in U.S policy negatively affecting women and abortion have been made:

Weakened protections against sexual harassment in schools – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, 34 C.F.R 106 (2020) 

Removing federal abortion protection – Overturning of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (2022) 

Prohibited federal Title X funds from going to family planning facilities that perform abortions – Title X 42 C.F.R 59 (2019) 

Blocked Equal Rights Amendment and removed deadline for it to be ratified –  (2023)

With all these new restrictions on women happening in recent years, why aren’t we seeing more young women showing up to marches and protests? 

Well, I believe we are taking our rights for granted. High school aged women today have grown up with our rights minimally threatened. We grew up in a girlboss-girlpower era where Roe was a given, federal abortion rights a given, and us boss babes were just about to crush the glass ceiling!

But it wasn’t always like that. Shelley Townsell, a women at the protest, recalls a time where women had more restrictions than men when it came to dressing for school.

“I’ve been protesting 53 years…my first in high school [1970]. The women could not wear jeans on campus, we couldn’t wear pants, so we marched on campus to wear jeans, and we won. We walked out of class. And from there we started with [protesting] abortion, and the [Vietnam] War.”

A protester holds her sign to face the approaching traffic. (Julian Manning)

High school aged women now exist in an era where everything is digital, so why would they go out and protest when they could theoretically reach millions with an Instagram repost? 

The key word is theoretically. While you could argue that a repost could reach millions, the reality is that reposting something on a social media platform does next to nothing. What typically happens is something is shared within your circle, with those who follow you, and those who will most likely hold the same views. While sharing content about any issue important to you can feel good, is it actually making a difference? Which is more powerful, 1,000 re-shares or 1,000 people marching for their rights?

Almost every woman at the Bigger Than Roe March that I spoke with was retired, almost every woman had been protesting since high school, and every woman echoed a similar sentiment when spoken with: we need more young people here.

Even though the adolescent women of today grew up in a somewhat secure spot for women’s rights, that is not the case now. As Ms. Walker put it earlier, “Now we are going back. We don’t want to lose, we need to gain back what we’ve lost.”

Like I said, this was my first protest in seven years. I, too, am guilty of resharing on social media to make myself feel better. In my head I think I am doing what’s right, educating people, but in my heart I know I will be lost in the sea of everyone else I follow reposting the same thing. We’re shouting at the top of our lungs about these issues, but we’re not reaching the people who should hear it.

Three women congregate after the protest has ended. (Julian Manning)

But the shouting doesn’t have to be in vain. Seeing and sharing equal rights content on social media can be the first step in forming a protest or a march. Consider connecting with others who share equal views to form a group. And if protesting is not an option for you, consider writing to your representatives. 

Which is more valuable? Hitting repost or spending your Saturday making some real noise? Which has more impact: a small group of tired activists or a loud diverse crowd?  

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