Protest fatigue and continuing fighting

Hannah Wilkinson is in her third year at King’s, studying history. She is President of Unicef on Campus Cambridge and runs a women’s Christian Ministry. She enjoys following American politics as well as feeding a love of coffee. She hopes also to pursue post-graduate study in the US next year. Below, she discusses the tiredness that comes with fighting for what one believes in, and the necessity to respect one’s own mental and physical wellbeing in social activism.


Tomorrow, the ‘A Day Without a Woman’ protest takes place to recognise the value that all women give whilst enduring lower wages, discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. All over the world, women are taking the day off work (paid and unpaid), avoiding shopping for a day or, for those who can’t do this, wearing red in solidarity. Across America schools are being shut down for the day; the protest bringing a standstill to everyday life. This protest is running off the back of much of the protest spirit, across the world in response to the Trump administration’s actions.

One of these protests took place on Monday the 20th February, in London. Demonstrations took place in parliament square whilst MPs debated whether May should revoke the invitation of a state visit to Donald Trump.

Tomorrow I will be wearing red and boycotting shopping. On the 21st January, I attended the Women’s march in London. On the 30th January, I travelled to London again to protest Trump’s travel ban. I have posted angry tweets and written articles. I signed the petition, along with 1.8 million other people to ask MPs to debate rescinding the invitation of a state visit to Trump. Despite my plans to travel again to London on that particular Monday evening to oppose such a visit, tired and overwhelmed with work I sat that one out. Friends who had been riled up and enthusiastic during the earlier protests, also dealing with their busy schedules and pressing deadlines, spent that protest at home too.

We see this time and time again, how initial angry social media outrage develop into frantic petition signing which after a few weeks dies down; momentum lost and the practicalities of life setting in.  When I was in sixth form, I was ready for any political fight, debate and justice-seeking mission. I attempted, rather naively, to launch a campaign against the supermarket Tesco, over a classist, ‘chav’ based birthday card. I wrote to Tesco and after a dismissing reply, I launched a full scale online, petition attack. Friends, relatives and teachers supported me. After reading ‘Owen Jones’ Chavs: The demonisation of the Working Class’ I was fuelled up and raring to go. I wrote to journalists, tweeted high-profile figures, and constantly bombarded all social media platforms with my petition: I was going to get this discriminatory birthday card removed from the shelves of Tesco. I was sure of it. Ultimately, after a few weeks people began to get tired of my Tesco tirades. Eventually after feeling like I gotten nowhere, except creating a funny joke where I got several of these cards on my own birthday, I threw in the towel.

Aside from petition signing, I was keen to engage in any debate I could on social media with anyone proclaiming sexist, racist, homophobic things. When ten teenage boys sent me over 100 abusive tweets in the space of 24 hours about my feminism, I held my head up high and responded to every single one of their abusive tweets. I was sure that if I could just change the minds of one of them, and ironically, whilst they sent me misogynistic and sexist hate, highlight the struggles women face, it would be worth it. Safe to say I didn’t change a lot of minds, but instead I drained my energy, fight, spark and passion – I began to feel the onset of protest fatigue.

This was not a loss in my interests or a wavering in my beliefs, but tiredness with constantly draining myself in order to fight ‘the good fight’. I began to question at what point do I need to put my own physical and mental health above my need to fight? Are the two not intrinsically linked – if I stop or carry on, either way I will not win. Resistance is tiring. Protest is tiring.

The protest on Monday 20th fell right inside the middle of my term, I was low on the energy, time and money it would take to travel to parliament square in London. Sadly, for the sake of my dissertation, I can’t get the full day off work tomorrow.

However, my motivation to protest has not diminished. Trump has done enough in the last few weeks to keep me wanting to protest every single day for the next four years. Yet, I’m aware that there have been enough hot-takes, angry tweets and think pieces that some days, I think I’ve seen enough to last me the next four years.

Protest fatigue is understandable and natural. How we navigate this in the age of Trump is perhaps less clear. My fear is that this fatigue is not the one-off-march-missing, it is that this fatigue becomes the norm and individual protest fatigue turns to collective fatigue. It is when we are continually bored of the outrage, think-pieces and marches that we need to worry: this is when Trump’s behaviour becomes normalised in its outrageousness. We might not even realise we are doing it.

I don’t know what the future holds or what the Trump administration will do next. But I do know that the resistance effort needs as much help as possible, from as many different people as possible. Fighting for your own rights constantly is exhausting and draining. We need people who will come out on the days when not everyone can, will and should. We need allies, who aren’t fighting for their existence to be recognised and respected on a daily basis, to stand in solidarity on the days when the fight seems too draining and tiring. We need collective protest and support. The thing about protest and resistance is that by their very nature they are not easy. Some days, I will need to sit it out and that is ok. It doesn’t make me any less outraged or a weaker fighter; it makes me a human in a tiring and wearying political situation.

So here’s my latest hot take on Trump, and I’m not going to apologise if you’re bored of reading about it. When the most powerful man in the world refuses to respect the existence of all, he can expect my unwavering and relentless resistance, even if occasionally I need to pass my protest banner to someone else to hold.




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