This summer I have served as an intern with Public Citizen, which has given me the opportunity to stand up for the rights of everyday Americans in a variety of ways including at a recent protest outside of the White House. Being a volunteer helping to facilitate the protest to Confront Corruption and Demand Democracy provided me not only with an opportunity to speak up for a more ethical government, it gave me a chance to witness first-hand people’s reactions and motivations for coming out to raise up their voices in support.
What was most clear to me was that while protests are often born out of a sense of outrage and anger about a government decision or from fear over the future and Trump administration has provided plenty of opportunities for people to feel both ways, attending protests are one of the best ways transform that anger and fear into hope and ward off despondency and pessimism.
Last week’s vigil was a perfect example of turning anger into hope and a path forward for change. Seeing like-minded people standing with me in front of the White House confronting the blatant corruption of Trump and his cabinet of unqualified Big Business hacks was extremely powerful. The speakers acknowledged the frustration of participants and channeled that into a call to action: demanding that the pillars of our democracy be upheld such as real, significant fixes to get money out of politics, tear down barriers to voting, promote a Supreme Court that defends the rule of law, and fix our ethics laws. This collective push for positive change gave me a sense of hope that not only would we be able to make it through this time where our democracy is being undermined both from outside within, but that we would not forget these lessons learned and we will amend our laws to protect ourselves from experiencing these sorts of ethical transgressions in the future.
As I passed through the crowd handing out signs and candles, it was impossible not to feel the energy and excitement of the people in attendance. Whatever spurred them into attending that night, it was clear that they’d had enough– they were determined to make their voices heard in front of the White House to change the course of our country. Even more so than other protests I’ve attended in the past, it was clear that this vigil was truly democracy in action as we rallied against the special interests and corporations that are trying to wrestle control away from the people. Representative Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) summed it up well saying, “This is our project. This is our country. This is a country for our future. And we cannot let the thieves and the corrupt people in the White House and the corporate suites steal it from us.”
There was also an added element of urgency to this protest since in addition to the daily deluge of alarming news headlines on ethical scandals, this vigil fell directly on the heels of the indictments of Russian hackers and the scandalous Helsinki summit between Trump and Putin. The protest’s speakers faced this constitutional crisis triggered by the possible firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller head on by reminding participants that activists around the nation are poised to pour into the streets if Trump attempts to undermine or block the Mueller investigation.
Despite the somber tone of the vigil, I still came away from the night with a profound sense of hope. By lighting our candles, at the end we were illuminating the darkness surrounding the White House both literally and figuratively. As I looked out over what seemed to be a sea of lit candles, hearing so many voices united in calling for a return to an ethical government, the spark of hope was kindled into a fire of passion for achieving change. And, as long as we continue to be that light shining truth in the face of darkness, democracy cannot be snuffed out.