If you google ‘protest as an occupation,’ you will get lots of hits for protests that occupied buildings. As Occupational therapists occupation refers to everything you need to, want to or have to do, from waking up to going back to sleep again. At this year’s Royal College of occupational therapists conference one of my favourite presentations was an occupation station about the occupation as protest.
Having attended a protest today, following Boris Johnson’s move to shut down Parliament, and after engaging in a conversation with a friend, it sparked and idea for this blog.
Why do we protest?
After a little online research, (I know not always the best resource) I read a few interesting articles and blogs. One article about Art Markman, a Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, particularly interested me.
Art wrote, ’ I’ve been really interested over the years in motivation and trying to understand the factors that motivate people,” “Those motivations affect both people’s performance in tasks, as well as the evaluation of that performance.”
His interest in motivation led him to write several articles on the topic, drawing on other people’s research and trying to bring more psychology into the discussion.
He found that people who have an issue with something that is important to them rarely start with violent protests first. “What they normally do is work through other channels to try to resolve the issue that they’re having,” says Markman.
When this doesn’t provide a satisfactory outcome, they will next try protesting in a public, but inoffensive way. “You’ll see people holding signs or writing articles or doing things that are outside of, say, the legal system, but still within the general bounds of what we consider to be civil discourse,”
If this does not work, the next step is getting people’s attention by offending them. Markman says the psychological mechanism for offending others is to transgress their so-called “protected values.”
As I read this, it screamed occupational therapy to me, understanding what motivates people to be able to engage in the occupations they need to or want to do.
Within the Royal College conference’s occupation as protest presentation we were asked to think about protest in its widest terms.
The act of engaging in a protest like I did today, But also why our service users may protest against injustice, these may include the treatment services are trying to engage them in.
Is challenging behaviour the result of motivation, to protest against something someone is not happy with?
As occupational therapists do we explore the reasons why people do not engage, or show behaviours that could be interpreted as protesting?
I find a lot of meaning in the occupation of attending a protest, it allows me to express my thoughts and feelings, and makes me feel like I’m part of something. All important aspects to a persons well-being.
However the act of protesting is difficult due to my disability, i’ve been on one rally in London, ‘ I loved every moment of it, the feeling of solidarity, it happened to also be the day that Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as leader of the Labour Party, so the atmosphere was electric. But moving in the crowd was difficult, and walking the long distance was painful, I don’t think I can do that again. Today’s protest was more standing and listening and it was only for an hour, Although I have had to rest for the rest of the day. It was worth it.
When I looked around at today’s protest I saw meny in wheelchairs, scooters or using walking sticks, so that says something about the motivation to protest, overcoming difficulties in order to engage in this occupation that was important for those who attended today.
Feeling part of something, feeling like you’re making a difference, feeling like you’re telling the world about injustices, it’s a very important occupation. But how can we make the act of protest more accessible for others?
In the 21st-century social media has become a big part in both organising, and allowing people to engage in online discussion and protest. But for me it doesn’t have the same feeling as being there in a crowd with others.
What other occupations could be seen as an act of protest? We could create art, boycott organisations that serve themselves over the needs of others. Be more conscious, in the ethical values of the services and products we use.
Does Protesting alone make any difference?
It’s a place to start, a place to form ideas and learn from others. The suffragettes had the slogan, deeds not words, but the suffragists let by Millicent Fawcett followed her words ‘courage calls to courage everywhere and its voice cannot be denied.’
I often debate with myself whether I would’ve been a suffragist or a suffragette. I admire all women that fought for us to have the vote, and I’m sure they would be a shame to see what is happened to democracy today. But I think I would’ve followed in Millicent’s footsteps. She lead rallies and marches, always peacefully but also lobbied MPs, and policymakers. Yet it’s the suffragettes, their violent acts, and hunger strikes that we remember.
Perhaps there is a place for both.
Does protesting change minds?
I’m unsure if I’m honest within a work context I think we still have a long way to go in understanding the act of protest, in a wider context history shows us that protests can play a part in change.
I love reading good night stories to rebel girls to my niece Lyra who accompanied me on todays protest, one story from history that springs to mind is Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus. Following her defiant act, a boycott of the bus services spread until, The US Supreme Court a year later made segregation on public buses unconstitutional.
“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” — Rosa Parks
With her words in my mind, I’m given the motivation to carry on with the occupation of protesting.
Good night stories for rebel girls.