By Maddy Mafrici
With an administration change in the U.S. government and the rise in political polarization within the United States, the number of protests and people protesting has increased across the nation. With protests starting back in December regarding electoral college votes, and continuing through the spring on issues including taxes and science, there is no end in sight to these nationwide protests.
Manlius Pebble Hill sophomore Eva Englich volunteered at and participated in the People’s Climate March in Syracuse on April 29, an event meant to bring awareness to climate change. Many fear the new administration does not take climate change seriously based on recent policy decisions.
Though the protest mostly consisted of mostly older people, Eva says that she and her friends, members of the Homer Environmental Club, were organizing all of the chants.
“[The youth] were the main people who helped organize, aside from a couple of other people, and they were the people who were ready to help,” Englich said. “It was important to them. It’s our future. We need to protect the climate.”
Englich isn’t alone. Though the increase in protests was seen at a national and international level, it can also be found among teens across the country and specifically within the MPH community, with many students of various backgrounds participating in protests in the past few months. Attending different protests, these students all had unique experiences and reasons to attend, though all stick to the major theme of standing up for important causes. Here are some of their stories:
Leo Alaghband, a sophomore of Iranian and Mexican descent, had strong feelings regarding the initiation of President Donald Trump’s first travel order, which banned refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States. Rather than sitting around unhappy about it, Alaghband decided to voice his opinions in an effort to make a change.
“This is something that I think is a direct attack on several minorities, and I think it goes against the Constitution and it’s completely wrong and unjustified,” he said.
Alaghband attended three protests this winter: the Women’s March on Washington, D.C.; the airport protest in Syracuse; and the protest in Albany to try to convince the Electoral College to not cast their votes for Trump.
Alaghband has been influenced by his politically active family. Having lived in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, Alaghband’s father has been politically aware his entire life.
Since college students disappeared during the revolution, he was worried for Alaghband’s safety at first. He cautioned him to be wary of anyone looking to make the protest violent.
“My mom was all for it and, in the end, my dad ended up supporting me as well,” Alaghband said.
Alaghband attended the Women’s March on Washington with his mom, brother and sister. He favored attending the protest with his family over his friends because they have more experience with activism.
“We’re much more into helping out with the chants than, say, some of my friends, who are embarrassed or shy,” he said.
One of the most unique aspects of Alaghband’s experience was his attendance at the Women’s March despite the fact that men were a minority there.
“It felt really empowering to be there along with actually a lot of men who were allies, of course, supporting women’s causes and … racial issues that were brought up,” he said.
According to the New York Times, the Women’s March on Washington attracted more than one million people.
“Being with a million people is something else,” Alaghband said. “It’s an experience that you can’t really have [in Syracuse].”
Surprisingly, Alaghband, being only 16, did not feel compelled to protest because he was too young to vote.
“I think that just being there and having the experience and being a representative is just as powerful even if I were able to vote. So, I think it’s just been a good experience either way,” he said.
Only nine months away from being 18 and eligible to vote, senior Lydia Kelly saw Syracuse in Solidarity, a sister march to the Women’s March on Washington, as an outlet to get her opinions heard. She sees social media and peaceful protests as a great way for students unable to vote to have their voices heard.
“It was very frustrating not being able to vote in this election,” she said. “Things that happen now are going to affect the next 50 years and my whole lifetime. So I was definitely discouraged by that, but when I found all this amazing stamina behind these voices [at the protest], I really was influenced.”
While Kelly was disappointed that she couldn’t attend the national Women’s March because of her commitment to dance, the Syracuse march was impressive in itself. Though the protest was small in comparison to others that day, it put a mark on history.
“It was really interesting to see so many people [who] are so passionate about things I’ve never really connected with before or known about around the Syracuse community, and Syracuse is only so big,” Kelly said. “I think it was the feeling of being part of history, like I get to have my voice in Syracuse a little bit.”
Kelly found that the inviting, positive atmosphere of the march created a great experience for her. Though the march was the same day as the various women’s marches throughout the world, Syracuse in Solidarity not only stood up for women’s rights but all human rights. More specifically, what Kelly especially enjoyed was the atmosphere surrounding the march.
“There was just a huge feeling that the people around you were there because of love, because of passion,” Kelly said. “It was a safe environment to be in because whatever we were doing, we were not there to bring something down. … It was less about being against these things and more about making change. Yes, we talked about negative stuff, but the vibe was just really wonderful.”
Though many attended the protests because of the empowering and positive atmosphere affiliated with them, Ahmad El-Hindi used the protests as an outlet for his anger, to have his vexation heard. El-Hindi, a sophomore of Arab descent, attended the Syracuse airport protest. He felt extremely frustrated by actions taken by the first travel ban.
“It’s always nice to voice your frustrations, especially in a setting in where everybody has the same opinions,” he said. “Also because I just wanted to have some sort of purpose in all of this and not feel useless sitting at home,” El-Hindi said.
El-Hindi’s Muslim descent made the situation more personal for him.
“It gave me a greater sense of drive and a greater sense of responsibility to oppose [the ban],” he said.
Though El-Hindi liked seeing such a diverse crowd at the airport protest, it also frustrated him to see firsthand so many people who could be impacted by the ban.
“You feel offended because the people who are affected by the ban come from where you come from,” he said.
Personally, El-Hindi felt that the protest had been effective for him as a form of therapy to get his anger out.
“I’ve done what I could do, and so I don’t feel as though I have any guilt for not doing what I could do,” he said.
Julia Walsh was only three months shy of 18 — and being able to vote — at the time of the November election. Two months later, she made sure her voice was heard in another way by joining the millions of Americans across the country in protesting.
“I missed being able to vote by three months, and I was pretty upset about it, so it made me more excited for the next election, where I will be able to vote,” said Walsh. “I think that a lot of us are not at the voting age, so the the only thing we can do is go to the protests and show our support in that way.”
Walsh, a senior at MPH, attended several protests following the 2016 election, including the women’s march in Seneca Falls and the Syracuse airport protest.
Walsh felt very empowered when attending the protests, especially the women’s march in the birthplace of the women’s rights movement. Being in such a unified environment with everyone supporting the same causes was very exciting and powerful to her.
“At both protests … way more people than anticipated … actually showed up. So it was good, and rejuvenating I guess, to see all of the support for … causes that were kind of being overlooked,” Walsh said.
Protesting is just one of the various avenues Walsh uses to get her voice heard. Walsh, an avid supporter of women’s rights, has used several other outlets to make a change. In addition to being the co-president of Z-Club, a club affiliated with Zonta International, an organization working for women’s equality and other humanitarian efforts, Walsh has attended a walk to draw attention to domestic violence and has spoken out on issues of women’s equality. Regardless of her inability to vote, she has made sure that her voice is heard.