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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Showing Up: Why our Bodies Matter in Protest

Sarah Tarter

Sarah Tarter

Sarah Tarter

When we show up at a protest, we make a statement with our bodies. Of course, there are signs, and t-shirts, and chants that we might bring with us to articulate our beliefs and provide context for our presence, but these are just a small part of what we carry in our rhetorical toolbox. The true weight of our argument in the realm of protest stems not from our words, but from our physical bodies.

On March 14, young people across America participated in a nationwide walkout to commemorate the 17 lives that were lost in the school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida last month, and to protest against gun violence. We marched through our schools in solidarity with the victims and their loved ones, as well as in opposition to the perpetuation of senseless shootings that take innocent lives. Our generation may be known for its social media-based activism and online forms of protest, but today we showed up. And that matters.

Protests like the #nationalwalkout compel us to make a statement about the inherent vulnerability of our physicality by temporarily transforming our bodies into symbols. When we show up for a protest against gun violence, against something that threatens to take the life out of our bodies, we use those same bodies to demonstrate what’s at stake. We say to our legislators, “these are what you’re threatening—these bodies that walk, and jump, and shout, and cry, and hold each others’ hands—these are what’s at stake.” We physically stand up for our beliefs and we demonstrate our willingness to take real action.    

As advocates for freedom of speech and civil discourse, my team and I are dedicated to promoting productive conversation, authentic expression, and generative discussion. As an English major, I am committed to studying and practicing the use of intentional language, as well convincing the world that word choice matters. And as a millennial, I spend a lot of time following, learning from, and participating in online conversations about contemporary social issues. Although I still believe that conversation and dialogue are absolutely essential for meaningful progress, the March 14 walkout demonstrated that sometimes the presence of our bodies standing in unison can speak louder than any of the words we have to offer.

Inspired by the students at Parkland who have said “enough” to gun violence, by the young people across the country who have put their bodies on the line in Black Lives Matter protests to advocate for racial justice, and by my peers on this campus who insistently and resiliently promote resistance against oppression, I am reminded that our presence matters.

Our bodies carry a profound and valuable weight in spaces of protest, and I hope that we continue to make ourselves present for the causes that matter to us. I hope that we will continue to leverage the power of social media, but that we will not be satisfied by the kind of pseudo-activism that takes place only in digital spaces and nowhere else. I hope that we will urge our peers to stand with us in public places so that we might feel the bonds of a living, breathing community in a way that is deeply visceral and hauntingly resonant.

We, America’s youth, are showing up—and I hope we keep it up.   

Mar 22, 2018

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