| Painting of American Puritans (source)
||Milk Farmers Protest, 2009 (source)
Reformation theology emphasized the intangible quality of faith and its location within the hearts of believers, rather than in the prescribed ritual of an ornate and hierarchical Catholicism. Embedded here, generally, was a rejection of the material. As waves of iconoclasm spread with Protestantism, so did the articulation of a new church architecture – one spare and plain, puritanical, rather than bejeweled or gilded.
This new religion founded itself in reaction, in protest, to the dominant practice thus, forming a network of Protestants in various guises, across Europe. Central to their belief was the philosophical distinction between the visible and invisible churches, between those who participate in religion in a material, empirical way—attending sermons, Sunday school classes—and those who, more significantly, are spiritually bound to Jesus.
The Westminster Standards, composed during the English Reformation, became the basis for, among other movements, Presbyterianism. The Standards articulated this difference between the invisible and visible, while denouncing the Pope of Rome as the head of the church. Instead, this vision of Protestantism imagined a community of individuals bound not by ecclesiastical authority but instead by a persistent and invisible faith. Protest then, unites a group diffuse in location or body under an immaterial priority.
In a staged protest however, it is exactly visibility that is valued. The accumulation of individuals, en masse, gives meaning and weight to an abstract belief or political priority. In the political sphere, to protest in one’s heart is as good as not protesting, and it is presence, attendance, and appearance, that substantiate the cause, no matter how independently noble. If you don’t show up, it doesn’t count.
For the average protest, attracting media attention is as critical as the grievance itself. Although current modes of digital communication can help to spread awareness of a cause, in order to maximize the (physical) platform for presenting concerns and to provide an accessible forum for generating public debate, demonstrators are known to collectively appropriate the city.
As societies become increasingly sophisticated, so do their forms of demonstration. Instead of throwing stones at government buildings, brute physical aggression may be superseded by psychological methods. In 2009, dairy farmers in Belgium began spraying milk onto farmland in order to protest the extremely low prices that they were receiving for their products. Responsibility for the protesters’ actions was directed at bureaucrats, while the inability of observers to witness such wastage spurred the end of the protest.
Because resistance is often a response to acts of oppression, protesting can instigate representation for alternate perspectives and even mediation between them. In May of this year, a group of Spanish citizens criticized what they perceived to be a corrupt government, through the formation of a grassroots democratic movement. What began as an informal protest camp, is developing into a hyper-organized micro-society that aims to guide the parties involved in the political system, on collective decision-making.
Through their many forms, protests typically maintain a spatial dimension, be it urban, rural or otherwise.
Daniel Fernàndez Pascual
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