For six straight weekends, South Koreans have jammed the streets of Seoul demanding embattled President Park Geun-hye’s resignation. With Park’s administration mired in scandal and corruption, more than one million participants attended the most recent protest, many chanting, “You must step down.” When Park, who has been impeached, inevitably leaves, it will be the unexpected resolve of ordinary citizens, as much as the machinations of her political opponents, pushing her out of office.
In a cynical age, it is perhaps too easy to dismiss protests as bits of political theater choreographed for Instagram and Facebook Live. Yet in recent months, protest movements are being defined by new urgency — and efficacy.
This comes at crucial moment. America is weeks away from the Donald Trump presidency, and people here would do well to pay attention to what has unfolded in the South Korean capital. There, citizens have held their president accountable, undeterred by empty apologies or promises. It has been a dazzling display by those determined to carve out the rot tainting their government and nation.
It has also proved that protesters willing to play the long game can prevail. That was also the message last Sunday, when the US Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under a section of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For months, thousands of protesters braved police dogs, water cannons, and increasingly inclement weather, believing the pipeline would threaten sacred lands and contaminate water. Even though the decision could be short-lived — Trump favors the pipeline — DAPL opponents cheered the news that, at least for now, their protests have been successful.
Ours is a nation born from protest, and that fervency has illuminated the civil rights era, the Vietnam War, and the first dark decades of the AIDS crisis. More recently, Black Lives Matter, focused on eradicating systemic racism, has inspired new generations to take to the streets.
Arguably, the stakes have never been higher than what America faces in its near and uncertain future. Already there are clear signs that Trump is willfully flaunting potential conflicts of interest. This week, Bahrain diplomats threw an extravagant party at Trump International Hotel in Washington, lining the pockets of the man who will become this nation’s 45th president. Some wonder if this is the start of foreign leaders patronizing Trump’s businesses to gain favor with him as president. Such brazen behavior cannot go unchallenged.
From Seoul to Standing Rock, citizens are finding not only their voices, but also the stamina and perseverance to make them heard. In turn, protesters are telling Trump that he will not be allowed to compromise this country to enrich his family or business interests, nor trample on constitutional rights with impunity. Again this week, dozens of Boston students, most too young to have voted in November, held an anti-Trump walkout, while momentum continues to build for a “Million Women March” in Washington on Jan. 21 — one day after Trump’s inauguration.
“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence,” Leonardo da Vinci once said. With so much at risk over the next four years, a necessary resurrection of meaningful protests can prove that silence will never again suffice.