Mcgill Professor Daniel Pratt discusses protest culture

Maysa Mustafa

McGill University assistant professor Daniel Pratt presented his paper on self-sacrifice and the long-term importance of protesting, especially for students, at a talk held Monday by the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. 

Jan Palach, a student protester from 1969, is remembered for his act of self-immolation, or killing himself as a sacrifice, in Prague out of protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. He was later credited as one of the principal factors that ended the Prague Spring. However, in his talk Pratt did not focus on the act so much as on “the meaning of his act.”

“I was worried about doing this paper because I didn’t want to celebrate Palach too much,” Pratt said. “His act was taken as an altruistic act. It’s made clear by the reaction it caused.”

Pratt credited Palach’s youth as a substantial reason his protest is remembered today.

“There’s a way a young person can affect the world around them,” Pratt said. “The students themselves — they’re the ones change surrounds. There’s a way the youth is effective regardless of your political ideology.” 

Pratt said while social media is useful as a modern platform for youth protest, it can also be detrimental.

“Social media is a great tool,” Pratt said. “But as any tool, it can be mishandled. There are certain times a tweet could be sufficient to cause a revolution, but at the same time a tweet can be used to suppress opposition. It’s a powerful tool, but one that can be used by everybody. It can be used by both heroes and villains.” 

Government junior Conner Vanden Hoek said he embraces the protest culture on campus.

“One of the things I enjoy about UT is that we have the opportunity to express our opinions,” Vanden Hoek said. “It’s interesting because you’re surrounded by people who are your age and who care about what’s going on.” 

Business junior Omkar Patel was tabling on West Mall last week when the Young Conservatives of Texas held up signs in support of Brett Kavanaugh, sparking attention on campus and contributing to nationwide discourse about
Kavanaugh’s nomination. 

“As soon as I saw their signs, I knew that things were going to escalate given the sensitivity of the topic,” Patel said. “The events that unfolded that day show that, as students of a university, we should try to debate logically with one another, not provoke each other.”