The Privilege of a Protest

We have a constitutional right to protest, but we must remember it is also our privilege

Illustrator: Stevie Lacher

Illustrator: Stevie Lacher

As Americans, we have a right to protest. In fact, while the laws of many nations ban protest, the founding fathers embedded peaceful assembly into our Constitution. Yet, although we often consider protesting a “right,” for the majority of Americans it should be seen as a privilege.

Protesting is clearly a privilege for certain groups of Americans, and backlash from the Feb. 16 “A Day Without Immigrants” protest illustrates this point. That day, thousands of immigrant workers and students, both undocumented and naturalized citizens, walked off the job and out of schools to highlight the role immigrants play in American society and to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies. When over 100 of these protesters returned to work Friday, they were fired.

“A Day Without Immigrants” demonstrates the risks protesters take. Regardless of gender, race, or class, all Americans risk their reputations, but not everyone risks losing their job over protest participation. Therefore, protesting is a privilege of citizens with stable jobs and finances—mainly the well educated, wealthy, and white.

Regardless of gender, race, or class, all Americans risk their reputation, but not everyone risks losing their job over protest participation.

Economic gaps between American-born and foreign workers also affect the ability to protest. According to the Pew Research Center, American-born and foreign workers have varied job profiles. Statistically, American-born workers fill positions in management, administration, or sales most frequently, while Hispanic immigrants, for example, work predominantly in construction and food service. However, not all foreign-born workers share the same job outlook. Other groups, like Middle Easterners and Asians, are well-represented in higher paying sectors like healthcare and management. Nevertheless, these occupational differences mean that while higher paid workers may be able to take paid time off to attend or travel to a protest, immigrants and other low wage employees must work. White Americans also earn a higher average hourly wage than most Latinos and African Americans. Therefore, minorities disproportionately may skip protests not only because they can’t take time off, but also because they need the money.

Americans need to recognize the privilege of our protest, and should remember that lasting social privilege and inequality restricts some Americans from making their voices heard.