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By Sanjay Paul | October 18, 2017, 4:40 AM

Protest is a weapon of the many against the few who, under existing conditions, would dictate the natural state of affairs. It is the product of a sphere of influence that maintains the ability to recognize its disadvantage, and thus aims to correct the wrongs committed against them. The adjustment of the course of any truly free society necessitates that citizens be able to to “peaceably … assemble.” Without such a right to free expression, it is clearly evident that amicable, peaceful, and effective solutions would decrease in quantity and quality.

Yet protest is not the only component required to inspire meaningful change. The text of the First Amendment specifies “the freedom of speech … [and the freedom of] the press” as equally important measures in the quest for “a redress of grievances.” John Locke, the preeminent father of modern republican government, in his A Letter Concerning Toleration, recognized that the freedom to formulate opinions and express them vehemently were the only true safeguards against political, economic, and moral oppression in a republic.

Protest, and protest alone, while an effective show of force, often appeals only to its original sphere of influence. This is a problem inherent to the medium, as complex and pressing arguments are not easily—nor can they effectively be—condensed into rhyming chants. Furthermore, without context, the subjects of protest often insulate themselves and categorize large groups of protesters as mobs inspired by the fervor of pitchforks and torches, unwilling to engage with the point of view of their “victims.” Ironically, protest, when it stands alone, has the tendency to further entrench partisan belief, all the while condensing the arguments of both sides into a series of sound bite responses, easy to digest and easier to condemn.


In the modern era, this manifests itself in the form of Facebook groups and meme culture, where self-contained bubbles foster communities in which people with different political beliefs are demonized and condemned as categorically wrong. Second-tier platforms like NowThis, PragerU, Breitbart, and HuffPost capitalize on this by resting their perceived notions of “truth” on a careful selection of primary sources. These insulated groups create echo chambers where people see what they want to see in their political opponents, as opposed to what the “other side” actually is. As a result, an endless cycle of entrenchment is stimulated by the continued perception of political opponents as ignorant and beneath logic. It is more than evident that this type of isolation completely derails dialogue.

The results of this cycle are events like those that unfolded on Tuesday, October 10105 Silver Tribute Saint Pumps with Leather Leopard Print Black Laurent xP44Iqw86. The Columbia University College Republicans’ insulation has put them in the precarious position of entertaining demagogic views. Perhaps more tragically, insulation has led CUCR to incorrectly categorize criticism as an abstract form of bullying. On the other hand, the protesters’ insulation has empowered them as arbiters of right and wrong, which in concert with their having constructed a negative image of the opposing political side without thorough evidence, led to a clash that was both messy and anti-republican.

Of course, the specifics of the protest itself are more complex and dependent on the intricate histories of the the groups involved, and not every person involved represented the broad generalizations depicted above. Furthermore, Islamophobia cannot and should not be tolerated in the modern era, but CUCR should not be depicted as an Islamophobic group for simply entertaining, not corroborating, the ideas of someone who is Islamophobic. It is possible to recognize the existence of a set of destructive beliefs without normalizing them.

That being said, this is a classic result of a lack of dialogue. The promise of any democratic structure is that no single entity has the right to impose it’s subjective viewpoint on another. This predominantly Lockean notion harnesses the belief that ceteris paribus human beings in all walks of life—Republican, Democrat, Socialist, or Neoliberal—do not actively want to hurt one another. Instead, democratic principle recognizes that different subjective viewpoints, when synthesized with one another, provide some semblance of objective truth. Miscommunication, which leads to conflict, is amplified when these subjective viewpoints are fed by echo chambers and insulated spheres of influence. Thus protest is but one vehicle among many needed to spur on real and concrete change.


Protest is an institution to be celebrated. It should be used widely as an instrument through which the downtrodden and oppressed can voice their concern. However, protest, when escorted only by itself, leads directly to ideological polarization. Real change also necessitates thoughtful and meaningful dialogue between parties that disagree. That isn’t easy; it requires prudence, patience, and a whole lot of willpower. However, if you truly care about what you believe in, then you can make it work.

Sanjay Paul is a current sophomore in Columbia College studying U.S. history. If you disagree with his argument in this piece, he’d love to open up a line of dialogue with you. Noise Pollution runs every alternate Wednesday. Sanjay can be reached at skp2143@columbia.edu.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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