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Mass protests erupted in Poland to protest strict abortion laws. Photo: CC, Partia Razem

Poland is a prime example of the power of peaceful dissent

On Monday, Oct. 3, thousands of women dressed in black took to the streets of Warsaw as part of “Black Monday,” a protest fighting against a proposed ban on all abortions, including those in cases of rape or incest, except those when a woman’s life is in danger.

Although Poland already has some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, the proposal for the law was brought forward by an anti-abortion citizens’ group that had collected 450,000 signatures from people that wanted to see even tighter restrictions on women’s ability to choose. But the people of Poland wouldn’t stand for it.

Fortunately, the pro-choice protest worked. According to BBC News, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin and the Prime Minister Beata Szydlo both made statements saying the proposed law will not be implemented.

The protests in Poland are an important example of the necessity of protest for social change. With the current discourse concerning race issues in the United States and, somewhat less so, in Canada, protest has been a hot topic, even though such actions are often dismissed, disparaged, and discredited.

Even the short and relatively peaceful protest that Black Lives Matter Toronto held during Pride Toronto this past summer amassed a significant amount of controversy and negative reactions, despite Pride’s history of being an inherently political event.

The right to protest could even be considered an inherent part of being a Canadian citizen. Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that one of the “fundamental freedoms” all Canadians have is the “freedom of peaceful assembly.”

Instead of arguing whether or not protests are necessary, inconvenient, or peaceful enough to be listened to, people should instead try asking why certain groups feel the need to protest at all. Putting yourself in a situation where you can almost always expect to receive insults, negative feedback, or even death threats—like in the case of Colin Kaepernick—especially when you are already a part of a marginalized group, can be dangerous and terrifying. Yet, people still make the decision to protest all the time.

After the backlash following Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, United States President Barack Obama came out in support of him. According to USA TODAY, President Obama said on Kaepernick, “If nothing else, he’s generated more conversation about issues that have to be talked about.”

President Obama’s wise words should be reflected on when one is questioning the need of groups to protest. Whether or not you support the actions taken by people like Kaepernick or groups like Black Lives Matter, there is no doubt that their actions have brought about discussions of social change. And in situations like the protests in Poland, we can see how these discussions can turn into action.

Protests are an inherent part of social change and activism. Women’s right to vote, the civil rights movement, and many other important social movements throughout history could not have progressed and amassed the support necessary for things to change without the power of peaceful dissent.

Sometimes, when people’s voices are being ignored, and the issues that are affecting their daily lives are disregarded, the only thing they can do to enact change is find ways to amplify their voices and force people to listen—and, as we’ve seen, this is exactly what protests do.