Why I protest: Martha Jeffries

We’re exploring the deep reasons that drive people to protest in support of important social and political issues, and highlighting those that do. Here, Sarah asks filmmaker Martha Jeffries about her personal motivations for hitting the streets, and how she’s using her professional skills to highlight issues like climate change and women’s rights.

Why do you think the freedom to protest is important?
Protest is crucial to a healthy democracy, and a democracy needs engagement to fully work. Protest has shaped real change – from the 19th century suffrage movement in New Zealand to the 1960s civil rights protests in the USA to the 2011 Arab Spring. People taking to the streets to demand action can get serious results.

Do you protest in support of a particular issue?
Action on climate change is my highest priority. We have to move away from fossil fuels and work towards a sustainable future. And I’ll attend every protest I can to demand that from our leaders.

If we don’t address climate change all other struggles will be magnified. The US military call climate change a “threat multiplier”, which means that it will exacerbate any existing problems – mass immigration, hunger, and conflict will be far more prevalent if we don’t make serious changes now, for example. The planet will be a much more hostile place for everyone but this will disproportionately impact people of color, women and those without money.

Read Martha Jeffries on talking climate change through TV

I’ve also been marching in support of women’s rights and science – two things I didn’t think I’d have to be protesting for in 2017. For most of my life progress has seemed inevitable. Lately I’ve realized it’s not a given. A fair and just society requires constant maintenance.

How have you been able to use your professional experience and skills to take a stand?
I’m a filmmaker and I often work in science communication. We’re in fact-challenged times and there’s a huge gap between what scientists know and what the general public hear. My highest priority is communicating the facts, in engaging, honest ways. I also make an effort to mentor young women in my industry. There are still too few female directors and we need to work to turn that around.

On the set of Years of Living Dangerously

I respond to what I see and exploit whatever opportunities I have to contribute. But I do this recognizing that there are protesters all over the world who are making great sacrifices, jeopardizing their own wellbeing or life to fight for a cause.

What motivates you to actively protest, and to support protest movements?
A firm belief that we can do better. We’ve overcome major challenges before and we can do it again. We have a choice right now. Climate change is the challenge of our time. We still have time to avert the very worst consequences. But we need to demand something different.

Do you feel a solidarity with other resistance movements?
There are many causes I support – Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ movement among others. But I also think it’s important to pick your causes so you can give the energy required to make a difference. Right now I could be attending worthwhile protests every week but sometimes it makes better sense to contribute in other ways.

Are there any examples of protests that have really made an impact on you?
I’ll never forget emerging from the cool, quiet darkness of the subway into the heaving streets of Manhattan for the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. There were nearly half a million people on the street, a far greater turnout than expected. There were indigenous groups, senior citizens, youth movements and families. I got choked up seeing this force of humanity all fighting for the future of our planet. At that point, I knew I had to use whatever skills I had to contribute to the fight.

At a Climate March in Washington DC

What are some key groups you’ve been involved with, or would recommend people link up with?
I love the work that Earth Guardians are doing inspiring younger generations to demand our leaders protect and preserve our planet. The #PutAPriceOnIt movement is doing an incredible job pushing for a carbon price – one of the real solutions to climate change. And Oceana and Mission Blue are doing crucial work in the ocean advocacy space.

But I encourage people to find the cause that means the most to them personally. Fighting for a great cause can make life more worth living. Find the cause that means the most to you – usually it will be right before you.

Martha Jeffries is a director and producer based in Brooklyn, New York. Find her at www.marthajeffries.com.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.

Header image by Emily Andrews.