“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” –Howard Zinn
I’m sure many of you want to know what I’ve been up to at the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations and living in New York. Before I tell you about my current adventure, I want to tell you about where I came from. Some of you followed my previous YAV experience in South Korea, and others are starting to follow my journey for the first time by reading this post. My experience in Korea furthered my interest in social justice, international reconciliation, and the development of people/communities. It was an amazing, challenging experience. In the short time I’ve been in New York, I’ve even been able to apply some of the lessons that I learned in Korea about myself and the world.
Let me take you back to a cold, wet winter night in the middle of Seoul, South Korea. I’m sitting in the middle of a crowd, wondering whether I should have worn a heavier jacket. Surrounding me are the lights of candles, and the voices of 1.9 million people asking for one thing: change. They are asking for the resignation (or impeachment) of the president, 박근혜 (Park Geun-Hye) due to evidence of corruption, sharing government info, and incompetence. And their protest is so beautiful and well organized. There are songs and speeches, and even a performance from the Korean Broadway cast of Les Miserables. To top it all off, just by chance the trailer for the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story starts playing on a bill-board. If you aren’t familiar with that movie, it’s about a resistance force trying to take down an empire. Seeing as the protest I’m attending is against the president who is the daughter of a former US-military backed dictator, that movie trailer was very fitting.
As I sit and observe all these things, I start think that this is how you advocate for change: in ways that are artistic, creative, and peaceful, and inspiring. And it is was ironic, given that I had recently learned that some protests in Korea had been met with brutal force from the police using water canons only months earlier. But this protest was completely peacefully enforced by the participants and peacefully observed by the police. I should note that leaving the protest was a challenge. One of my fellow YAVs had to literally pull me by the hand through the crowd, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to move.
Fast forward, ten months and I’m in my first week of my second YAV year at the PMUN in New York. President Trump has just announced that he will end DACA. My boss says to me, “I’m not a protest-type person, but I’m going to go to one outside Trump Tower. Do you want to come with me?” A year ago, I’m not sure I could have said yes. But remembering my experience in Korea, I said, “Absolutely.”
So we go to this protest. It’s a far cry from 1.9 million people, maybe 60. And this time it’s really hot, and I’m wearing too many clothes because I came straight from the office. So I stand by Trump tower, sweating profusely in my blazer, holding a sign that says “we choose welcome” for about an hour and a half. The protest itself is relatively uneventful, not very artistic or creative. When we leave, it’s very easy. We don’t have to fight through a crowd to move half a block.
In short, this protest was quite different from the one in Seoul. Even so, I know why I went. I understand the purpose and the value in being there, advocating for a change that I seek, together with other people. And I’m grateful to the 1.5 million Koreans who taught me that.