The Wednesday Weigh-In: “Protester of the Year” Edition

Times cover in red and gold hues of female Arab protester with face obscuredTime magazine has named the “collective protester around the world” as its person of the year. The magazine goes on the newsstands Friday, and interestingly, amazingly, beautifully, the  cover photo is of a female Arab protester.

I’m thrilled to see the Arab Spring, and to a lesser extent, related protests around the world including Occupy Wall Street, honored and acknowledged in this way. It’s so rare for the grassroots origins of social change to be celebrated in large, powerful media spaces like this. And the street protesters of today deserve it!! They are working so hard, and sacrificing so much, in the name of social change.

Time managing editor Richard Stengel seemed to agree in an interview he gave to NBC on the selection.

There’s this contagion of protest,” he said. “These are folks who are changing history already and they will change history in the future.

I’m also sort of fascinated with and maybe a little curious about the decision to honor the anonymous protester, rather than naming a specific, tangible one, who has done something concrete. I get that it’s hard to single out just one protester out of the hundreds of thousands that have emerged as local leaders and grassroots change-makers. And I’m not saying I disagree with what they’ve done.

But it still feels like a slight copout to make the protester nameless, generic, when there are so many real-life, highly identifiable protesters out there doing real work. Maybe copout is too strong of a word. I still feel like the overall effect of the choice positive.

People who work on social change are pretty consistently portrayed as selfless, or pressured to remain anonymous to keep the spotlight off them and on their work. But the truth is that what they’re doing is work, and they deserve as much credit as someone who is choosing to do their work in another sphere, like social media. Why should Mark Zuckerburg get true, high-profile glory, while protesters get a generic, symbolic nod?

I haven’t seen the story to accompany the piece, and maybe it names some specific protesters. At the end of the day, I know that this is more of a creative editorial idea than some deeply symbolic gesture towards systematic invalidation of the work behind social change.

Which brings me to this week’s Wednesday Weigh-In.

What do you think of Time Magazine’s selection for Person of the Year? If it were up to you, who would your singular, real-life pick for “protester of the year” be?

For more reactions to the decision, check out Time’s “6 Basic Twitter Reactions”.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to serving as an Executive Director at Feministing, Lori is the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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