Student leaders reflect on decline of campus protests
Following the election and subsequent inauguration of President Donald Trump, the liberal-leaning campus has seen several politically charged protests varying from small vigils to large marches, attracting thousands to the Diag this year.
While the political atmosphere directly following the election on campus was extremely active, there has appeared to be a drop in the number of demonstrations, something that postdoctoral fellow Austin McCoy said could be due to the fact that there haven’t been as many directly instigating causes as of late.
“We haven’t really seen any precipitating causes that have galvanized people,” McCoy said. “Even if people disagree with a lot of the administration’s policies, they (the Trump administration) haven’t done anything that has provoked a massive response.”
McCoy, who has worked with the Black Lives Matter and Collective Against White Supremacy movements in Ann Arbor, also said he believes part of the drop-off could be the natural cycle of the school year as people are preoccupied with exams and deadlines.
“I think part of it is the rhythm of the school year; obviously, we’re coming to the end of the semester and folks are more busy,” McCoy said.
McCoy said he thinks people were more prone to protest directly after the election as a response to the anger and fear they might have been feeling, but now he said he thinks a lot of longer-term organizing is happening.
“There are some people who said they weren’t surprised, but there might have been a lot of collective shock and that sort of drove people to organize, because people felt like they wanted to do something,” McCoy said. “It was sort of a short-term response, go out protest, voice your anger voice your fears — now I think what’s going on is you (have) a lot of long-term organizing.”
Immediately after Trump’s election there were a number of marches on campus, including one led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, while after the inauguration the Ann Arbor Women’s March attracted about 10,000 people in the Diag.
McCoy said he sees groups on campus now concerned more with striving to make the campus culture more inclusive and then will protest as a response if something bad comes out of Washington.
“A lot of the student groups here seem to be concerned with changing campus culture and campus policies here, and when they perceive something bad to happen that comes from Washington, then there will be a protest,” McCoy said.
LSA junior Rowan Conybeare, the chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, personally participated in the Women’s March and said she feels the excitement may have died down a bit, but thinks the desire to resist Trump’s policies is still strong.
“President Trump has done a ton of awful things already and he hasn’t even been in office 100 days, and I’m worried that it could become a feeling of normalcy,” Conybeare said. “That’s another one of the goals of College Dems is to make sure we know and students know that this is not ok, even if things continue to happen.”
In a similar vein, LSA sophomore Brad McPherson, a co-founder of Progressives at the University of Michigan, said he doesn’t think a drop in the number of protests implies people are becoming complacent to the administration.
“I don’t think that the drop off in numbers implies a drop off in enthusiasm,” McPherson said. “Protests in general are a really good message because they show the president that people are still very concerned about what he’s doing in office.”
Conversely, students on the other side of the political aisle, such as LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, the president of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said he thinks a lot of the liberal protests on campus can somewhat undermine the left’s goals by desensitizing people to issues.
“It’s kind of an issue of the boy who cried wolf; you have all of these protests where these liberals are accomplishing absolutely nothing except desensitizing the call to their own goals,” Zalamea said. “If you have a protest all the time — which is what they’re doing — it kind of defeats the whole purpose of drawing attention to one particular goal.”
Additionally, Zalamea said he thinks some of the protests were actually contradictory in nature, such as when Democratic organizers claim to support both low-income manufacturing workers and extreme environmental regulations.
“In fact, that’s probably one of the reasons the Democratic Party is having such a hard time of retaining members — is because they have so many hypocritical arguments,” Zalamea said. “That conflict of interest is very common among liberals and the Democratic Party in general.”
Thinking toward the future, Conybeare also said that while protesting and marching is impactful, she believes it will not directly translate into political success unless people follow through.
“I also think we can go further than just protests; they are super impactful and create a ton of excitement, but there’s more,” Conybeare said. “Protests aren’t going to get Democrats elected, so we need to continue knocking doors and canvassing and talking to students.”
Speaking about the upcoming Michigan gubernatorial race as an example, Conybeare said just because there appears to be a lot of resistance to Republicans, Democrats cannot just assume they will win office.
“Even after what Governor Snyder did to the people of Flint, Democrats cannot just assume it’s ours,” Conybeare said. “As a party, we need to be careful not to take it for granted, but I think it can give momentum in the long run.”
McPherson predicted there will be another uptick in protests as midterm elections approach because of the unpopularity of Congress and Trump.
“I think as we get closer to midterm elections we’re going to see another ramp up of protests in general as people express their discontent,” McPherson said.
Addressing the lack of organized protests by conservative students on campus, Zalamea said he thinks it is the result of a currently a unified Republican government, but also believes liberal college students are more prone to protest.
“Maybe it just boils down to the progressive left's methodology, when something upsets them I guess their go-to thing is to just protest about it,” Zalamea said. “Whereas with conservatives you see discontent mainly just resulting in action right away.”