The balancing act of Activists and Allies

Anna Aguto, Sidwell Friends '18

When to stand up versus when to step back and listen to others. (Published: 2017)

Illustration by Benji Aliaga, Sidwell Friends '17

With the aftermath of the presidential inauguration, and even election, dominating Facebook feeds and news screens, everyone appears to have an opinion. However, one opinion I see often is the idea of moving on and accepting our new president in silence. It has come from Democrats and Republicans alike, and while I understand this opinion, it makes me ask at what point we should actively voice our opinions and fight for what we believe in? And conversely, is there a time to be a silent objector or -- perhaps more appropriately -- a listener?

The idea of “accepting” President Trump’s ideals and policies without protesting is one I struggle to agree with. In 2008, after the election of President Barack Obama, anti-Obama protests spread throughout the nation. After the Obama administration planned for the government to bail out insurers, banks, and auto companies, protests against “big government” spread throughout the nation. Dispersed protests transformed into a movement, the Tea Party, which influenced and still influences politics by going to congressional town hall meetings to express concerns and opinions. The protests against Trump seem to be following this historical pattern.

Both election results elicited opinionated and sometimes violent responses. In fact, our current president called protests against him “unfair” (Trump, Twitter post, 11/10/16) though he called for a “march on Washington” (Trump, Twitter post, 11/6/12) after the reelection of President Obama in 2012. It strikes me as hypocritical for the same people who protested and objected the election of Obama to want silence and acceptance from those who are exercising their first amendment right to protest.

In my opinion, protests that occurred on Inauguration Day with the intent to “shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations” (Disrupt J20 quoted in Jeremy Stahl, Slate, 1/20/17) are unwise and have unrealistic goals. Peaceful protests on Inauguration Day, which protested Trump’s views on certain issues, and the Women’s March on Washington, which occurred the following day, are great examples of people democratically demonstrating their viewpoints. For those who feel threatened by Trump’s policies, like those regarding restricting abortion rights, they have a platform to “step up.”

In my mind, there never is a time to completely “step down,” but rather “step back.” Being a silent objector only creates more tension since that person may feel unheard or unrepresented. Correcting an offensive comment can educate that person because oftentimes racism or sexism


stems from ignorance rather than hatred. When we witness these things, which include jokes and unintended yet harmful remarks, it is our duty as allies to stand up for those who are being hurt, because in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Stepping back” is an important concept when talking about topics like race, sex and class. In order to learn another person’s perspective and be fully aware of their experiences, we have to listen without interjecting, knowing that we as listeners do not know everything. Looking at Sidwell specifically, some people “step up” to address and discuss issues of race and sex in club meetings, but because these meetings take place during lunch, those who usually attend already have a preexisting interest or connection.

There are people who do not engage in these conversations because of fear--I had a friend tell me she does not like to talk about race because she is unsure of what to say. But what is more important than saying the “right thing” is stepping away from fear and merely listening in hard conversations to gain perspective and learn more. People shouldn’t feel compelled to always step up and speak, but rather to constantly be open to stepping back and listening.