The School for Ethics and Global Leadership

Lessons in Protesting

Author: Maria Katsulos - Spring 2016 Date: Mar 9nd, 2016

Editor’s note: SEGL is a non-partisan institution and both seeks and celebrates political diversity in its student body.

After an early wakeup on Monday morning, last Wednesday’s delayed start of classes was definitely welcome. Plans were made to go to the gym at a more leisurely pace, or to have a long breakfast, or even to sleep in until the last minute and relish that luxury.

On Monday evening, though, during our weekly “Runaround” group exercise session, we saw a few young people handing out pamphlets advertising a pro-choice protest on the steps of the Supreme Court Wednesday morning. The Justices would be debating a Texas law regulating certain aspects of clinics that provide abortion services and the funding of those clinics. We looked at the informational presentation they had set up in what seemed to be a rented U-Haul trailer and talked to them for a while before heading back to the dorms.

A new plan for Wednesday morning was hatched: We would get up at the regular time and leave the dorms just before 8:00am, so we could spend an hour and a half at the protest.

Tuesday night, the common room in West Dorm was covered with poster boards and markers as the 11 students who planned to go to the protest each made a sign to hold the next morning. Fueled by incredible banana bread made by our incredibly talented Director of Admissions and French teacher Mairéad O’Grady, the posters were completed and left by the door for the two-minute walk to the Supreme Court the next morning.

On Wednesday morning, we took the posters to the Supreme Court and were shocked by two things: the number of people there and how quickly we felt comfortable enough to hold our signs up and cheer for different speakers. Advocates for Planned Parenthood in purple scarves passed out Keep Abortion Legal pins and free signs for those not quite as creative as the SEGL students’.

While it might be easy to get swept up in the mob mentality and mindlessly chant words and phrases without really observing what’s going on, it was interesting to take note of the wide variety of people supporting both sides. Though the pro-life protestors’ numbers were admittedly smaller than the pro-choice protestors’, the former group’s balloons and signs bolstered their confident chanting.

Our interactions with protestors for each side were interesting, as well. One SEGL student who holds an undecided stance on the issue spoke with some pro-life protestors and then some pro-choice, pro-religion protestors to get a look at both sides of the argument.

Another interaction, had by the entire group with a pro-choice protestor, really put the entire scenario into perspective. After chatting with us about our signs for a few minutes, she stopped speaking as one student came up and reminded the group that we had to leave in fifteen minutes to avoid being late to class.

The protestor’s expression and tone of voice conveyed her surprised delight as she asked us, “You’re going to school after this?”

We gestured to our backpacks and explained that we intended to take the Metro straight to school after our time was up. We explained we were high school juniors and that we had late classes that day, and how glad we were that this schedule had intersected with the protest date.

It was definitely a very SEGL set of moments, both in finishing our interaction with the protestor (who was nice enough to tell us that we gave her hope!) and in leaving the protest.

It’s definitely not an everyday experience to get to go from a rally on the Supreme Court steps – a rally taking place while lawyers and Justices deliberate! – straight to school. Hopefully it will be an experience we get to repeat, however; something we discuss often at SEGL is what kind of difference a single person can make, and what is the most effective way for an individual to enact change.

The Justices inside may not have heard our voices exactly, but they couldn’t have missed the noise we helped create with everyone else on the steps that day. The change made by one person may not seem like much, but judging by the sheer volume of a call for change that day, individuals working together can accomplish incredible things – and still get to class on time.