By Shakeel Syed
Protesting is innately human. We are blessed with the gift of discerning and the ability to protest the wrong to right it. Human history invites us to celebrate their protests and learn from them. Here are some inspiring examples from the past for the present.
Mandela challenged inhumane apartheid. Kenyatta freed Kenya and Gandhi liberated South Asia. They knew well that power never concedes without protest.
And hence they pursued the path of protesting to dismantle the European empires from their lands.
People of conscience do embrace the legacy of protesting knowing that it will be a vocation of agony. For example, protesting requires a spirit of sacrifice. Unlike those mentioned above, we do not have to risk our lives, yet we must be willing to give up some comforts and accept a few losses. Here are a few more examples.
Shaquille O’Neal, the basketball great, when challenged by an ordinary working mother chose to dismiss the $40 million Reebok endorsement for their $200 shoes. Instead, he made other arrangements so that his signature shoes can be available for $20 for the children of that working mother and many like her. Similarly, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers took a knee protesting the racism in our country and lost his contract. Conscientiousness, after all, does not come free. In them, we find people of conscience with a spirit of sacrifice.
Not always all protests yield desired results. In fact, in some cases, some protests yield the very opposite. For example, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated protesting the country’s racial inequality and economic injustices. Muhammad Ali was imprisoned for refusing to fight in Vietnam, was stripped from his world heavyweight boxing title, and lost a whole lot of prize money. In them also we find people of conscience with a spirit of sacrifice.
We remember them today because of their commitment to making the world a better place.
Protests matter. If it was not for the Black Lives Matter protests, George Floyd’s murderers would still be walking free. And if it was not for the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, then President Barrack Obama may or may not have said this, “What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience, and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.”
People of South Asian descent in America must remember the rich legacy of our great grandparents (mothers and fathers) without whose protests our lands would still have been occupied. And now that we are in America, let’s honor them by keeping the legacy of protest alive to right the wrongs on this land or far away on the lands we hold so dear. After all, we have more options and fewer risks than them.
Protests matter and to protest is innately human. What are we waiting for?
(Shakeel Syed is Executive Director of the South Asian Network in Artesia, CA)