Real protestors fight for social justice, not fun

Audrey Larcher

Last week, Pepsi released a commercial featuring Kendall Jenner advertising its soda as an essential part of a good protest. Less than a day later, the corporation pulled the video off its YouTube channel after activists responded with backlash, claiming the advertisement trivialized both the danger and necessity of public demonstration. The corporation “missed the mark” on a slew of issues, but the overarching message is that marches are an act of privilege.

By presenting protests as a feel-good gathering to sell its product, Pepsi perpetuates a notion that those who take to the streets are just “liberal snowflakes” who like to wear their political convictions like fashion statements and act violently for no reason. This appropriation overshadows the rich history and constant strife of social justice movements.

Despite the video’s short shelf life, most of the internet is well aware of the plot line. A tortured cellist, an uninspired photographer and Jenner join a stream of protesters brandishing ambiguous calls to action. The march stalls after law enforcement blocks off the street — but don’t fret, Jenner comes to the rescue, offering a Pepsi to a cop. Unable to resist, the officer accepts the soda and takes a sip, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

The main eyebrow-raiser is how jovial the protesters are. Dressed in trendy vests and sporting soft smiles, the demonstrators look like they’re going to the cellist’s concert (he’s wearing the instrument on his back), not taking to the streets. They’re well-groomed, they’re well-dressed, and they’re far from anything resembling a radical protester.

For one, those outfits aren’t comfortable. The protests we’ve seen lately are not leisurely strolls, but laborious drudges. Demonstrators spend hours on their feet in a variety of conditions, typically wearing loose shirts and comfortable athletic shoes. The growing need for protesters to wear masks as means of security is also disregarded by Pepsi as their “activists” nonchalantly flash smiles and pose for pictures.

Fighting for social justice is not a casual undertaking. It requires specific provisions to ensure physical safety. If Pepsi thinks people can simply waltz out to a march in skinny jeans, they do not understand marches. Illustrating protesters as casual and carefree undermines the important role that protesters play by putting their safety on the line.

Most people can agree that handing a cop a Pepsi isn’t going to solve racism. But the privilege that may not be as obvious in the climax is the simple fact that Jenner approaches the police without thinking twice.

Calls for police cooperation are the privileged voices that think the police are receptive and open to protesters. In reality, groups like Black Lives Matter don’t always have the ability to approach cops without danger. Sure, communities have developed relationships that allow Black Lives Matter and local law enforcement to gather for cookouts, but these relationships are a result of police departments’ choices to curb brutality. Coexistence is a consequence of cops’ decisions, so when cops don’t make the effort to foster peace, protests can easily end with tear gas.

Jenner’s interaction with the cop supports the idea that it is easy for marches to coordinate with law enforcement. If America continues believing this falsehood, we will continue to understand more unruly displays as senseless rebellion, not a necessity.

Pepsi’s commercial was riddled with issues, indicative of protest mischaracterizations that are embedded in American culture. Unifying behind Black Lives Matter will be a long process for this country, and we must take many steps to reach this goal. But for now, we can at least be glad the Pepsi ad is gone.

Larcher is a Plan II and economics freshman from Austin. She is a columnist. Follow her on Twitter @AudreyLarcher.