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Protesting in Philadelphia: Advocates for social justice make their voices heard in Center City

      Each faculty member, student, and surrounding residents of the Eastern area bared witness to the eventful year of activism that was 2016. Last year, indigenous Americans and their allies protested the construction of an oil pipeline through their land; women and friends all around the country marched in response to the then incoming administration’s perspective on womens’ issues, and many marches and vigils were held for black americans who died at the hands of the very people meant to protect them.

      Later, in 2017, major US cities saw “marches for science” that were meant to draw attention to the lack of environment awareness in the government.  There were also events, both spontaneous and planned, that were held to fight back against the travel ban. For Eastern students, it becomes an inescapable reality that political activism is becoming a part of their lives. How can these young men and women navigate the complex nature of protesting?

      “Acts of protests, or as Martin Luther King Jr. calls it, ‘direct action’ seek to pressure a community to confront an issue. Direct action tends to form when the community refuses to negotiate with it’s citizens on an issue. It is an expectation of citizens to be represented by their communities and representatives. Practicing direct action continues to show results as it keeps our trusted officials accountable,” Jon Thomas, who leads the political activism club (PAC) on campus said.

      Effective protests always have clear goals. While the crowd might come from many different backgrounds, the overall goal revolves around causing (or preventing) something to change. This was the case with the travel ban protests earlier this year. Students of Eastern, nearby colleges, and residents of the Philadelphia area mirrored several other cities across the country by organizing to take up space in the local international airport in an attempt to get the travel ban lifted and release green-card holders being held by customs. However, other protests were done without a specific policy in mind. Instead, events such as the march for science and women’s march were done to galvanize public opinion and simply raise awareness. Many of the students here at Eastern watched these demonstrations on TV and the internet, but on the ground, the situation is often different than depicted.

      “Any protest really depends on the hearts of the people. Hopefully, if you’re at a protest that you truly identify with you’ll feel love, acceptance, and support,”Thomas said regarding his own experiences at protests.

      Depending on the type of event, the peacefulness can vary. The weekend of the travel ban was wrought with spontaneous protests differing in size and civility. Urgency and anger characterized such events. The marches formally organized the following weekend starkly contrasted the haphazard gatherings that preceded them.

      Recently, this has become an issue from Berkeley to Charlottesville, where tense protests broke out into near riots. In contrast, the upcoming “march against white supremacy,” in Philadelphia and many other major cities, is planned to be peaceful and is even being coordinated by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students who find themselves called to direct action will have ample opportunity to participate in several events while they are here at Eastern.

      “Always be mindful of your surroundings when at a march, outing, or event. Be the bigger person and turn the other cheek. Most importantly, for everything you advocate for, do it out of love,” Thomas said for future protesters.


How to get involved: Sept. 22, the new Campolo Institute for Applied Research and Social Justice is hosting Social Justice Day on Eastern University’s campus. The Campolo Institute will bring together speakers, social justice organizations, student clubs, university faculty, and student performance groups in order to raise awareness for various social justice issues. There will be events all day, starting at 10 a.m. with Dr. Tony Campolo speaking at Windows on the World, and then followed by a social justice fair between McInnis and Walton Hall. There will be performances by different student groups throughout the day, and a 2 p.m. round table discussion in Eagle Great Room led by Dr. Campolo, students, alumni, and faculty focused on “Eastern University Social Justice Legacy: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The day will come to a close with a special social justice-themed coffee house at 7:30 p.m. sponsored by the Student Activities Board. Be sure to take advantage of this exciting opportunity to educate, learn, share, celebrate, and discuss Eastern University’s future role in social justice.

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