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In our opinion: Once the protests start to subside, where do we go from here?

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Mary Draper, center, holds a sign during a peaceful protest outside First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The protests following the death of George Floyd have swept the country, andrecent polls show more than half of Americans approve of them. On Tuesday, social media was flooded with posts of black squares symbolizing solidarity with the movement — the desire to amplify black voices and fight racism. The country wants change, and history shows that it is possible — even natural. 

But now begs the question, where do we go from here? 

In “The Sociology of Social Change,” Piotr Sztompka describes how change is a result of several factors coming together. At a basic level, the four elements of environment, technology, institutions and population must all participate.

There may be no better time for those areas to work together than now. The current movement has been simmering for decades, but recent events have primed this round of messaging to resonate wide and deep.  

Nobody should have to lose their life to ignite a movement, but the high profile deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd tipped the scales of a population that already had been disproportionately affected by the spread of a global pandemic. 

The environment was just right, with thousands shuttered in their homes and growing restless. Technology aided the discomfort with the humble smartphone capturing live unbelievable realities and sending them to the masses. Institutions have begun introspection.

Society may well be ready to put in the multi-pronged effort to fight racism on a deeper level. Success requires action and strong leadership in all those areas. Physical protests send a strong visual message, but they are not — and cannot be — the only way to raise one’s voice. 

Voices must be heard in all parts of life. It is at the intersection of voting, education and in our everyday interactions with others where change is born. Strong leadership in each of these areas ensures the movement has an identity and a feeling of ownership from those who need to be heard. 

“If we want to bring about real change,” former President Barack Obama recently wrote, “then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both.”

Former President George W. Bush also released a statement asking Americans to listen to the voices of the movement: “We can only see the reality of America’s need by seeing it through the eyes of the threatened, oppressed and disenfranchised.”

The protests may begin to taper off, but that should not signal an end to the message.

The voices of protesters are being heard around the world. Those voices must also be heard through the votes Americans cast at the ballot box this month, through respectful social media posts and the proper use of technology, through books and academic articles and through the way Americans talk to their loved ones and friends. 

This is no time to stop. It’s time to look around and identify the areas still lacking.

Accepting that change is constant also means accepting that the individual is not powerless. A single voice can have lasting impact, and millions of voices together can change the future.