Activists Say it Can Take Years to Affect Change

Jan 10, 2017

In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s inauguration, critics are planning hundreds of demonstrations across the nation. Some say protests will continue in the months after Trump takes office.

“Many are looking at the next 100 days after the inauguration, 100 days in terms of what kinds of actions are to follow, actions around educating the public,” says George Martin of the Wisconsin Green Party. He’ll be among Trump opponents heading to Washington for the inauguration, not just to protest but also to strategize. It's something he says progressive groups have been doing for years when a new administration takes over.

“This is kind of more publicized because of what's happened around Trump. But under Obama, under Bush, we did the same things, to work and make sure that our issue is on the top of that stack of papers,” Martin says.

Martin says activists are used to pushing for their causes over the long haul. He says it can take time to get the public to pay attention to what demonstrators are saying.

“As you're standing there with your sign, somebody drives by and they kind of notice you. The next time they drive by and they get to understand and they say ‘I agree with that.’ Then they start to read more, then they start to listen to the news more. And so that shift in public opinion doesn't happen overnight, but it does happen over time,” Martin says.

“Ordinarily there's no immediate positive response,” says the Rev. Joseph Ellwanger of Milwaukee. He's currently pushing to revamp Wisconsin’s prison system. But over the years, Ellwanger has participated in countless demonstrations. They included civil rights marches alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama in the 1960s. Ellwanger was a pastor in Birmingham when that city was at the center of some of the era's turning points, including a church bombing that killed four black girls. Ellwanger says the civil rights struggle was difficult and long.

“Just think of all the demonstrations that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee waged in various places, before finally in 1964 the Congress responded with the civil rights law of '64, and then with the very strong voting rights law in 1965 after the Selma demonstrations,” Ellwanger says.

Ellwanger says not only did the push for civil rights take patience, it also required courage, because of threats the KKK posed. He says it takes committed demonstrators to see causes through.

“You really have to see it first of all as a moral issue, something that is wrong and needs to be righted. It can't be just a superficial notion that, 'hey this is an issue that sort of looks good, is an issue to support.' It's got to be deeper than that,” Ellwanger says. He says that deep commitment provides the motivation to keep going.

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