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Reality Check: Does protesting create lasting political changes?

FILE - Asheville's Women's March in January of 2017. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

If you turn on the news, you're bound to see a protest. But are these expressions of political or social discontent really making a difference? News 13 investigates what it takes to make a lasting change in protesting politics.

There are protests in the NFL, protests in the streets and protests around historical monuments, all calling attention to racial or social injustice. These forms of political expression may be controversial, but protest organizers say they're the bedrock of our nation and protected by the constitution.

"Freedom of speech is serious business," said Marie Germain, who organized Asheville's Women's March earlier in 2017.

The Women's March brought thousands of people to downtown Asheville to march for women's rights. It was a peaceful protest that covered a host of issues. Demonstrators filled Asheville's Pack Square.

"The women's march was the result of knowing Donald Trump had been elected, and it was fueled by anger," Germain said.

But some believe that anger only diminishes the chances for political change.

"At the core is anger, and the problem with anger is it's very addictive and very corruptive and ,over time, it begins to consume itself," Dr. Carl Mumpower argued.

Mumpower is chairman of the Buncombe County Republican party and also a Vietnam War veteran. Being a veteran of the Vietnam War, a war that politically divided the nation, he remembers the angry protests against veterans after returning home.

"The more we get devoted to anger, and we don't realize, it captures us and our view gets more and more narrow and darker and darker," Mumpower said.

Angry protests filled Charlotte streets in September of 2016, ignited by the killing of a black man by a black police officer. That officer was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the wake of protests, businesses were trashed or looted and a man was shot and killed.

Some believe the violence is an unfortunate consequence in the fight for political change.

"When you focus on property damage over the loss of life, I think that's also a detraction from what these protesters are articulating," Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad said.

Vesely-Flad is a professor of religion and social justice at Warren Wilson College. She took some of her students to join the Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri. She says the violence erupting around them was only a distraction.

"So, today, the protesters for Black Lives Matter, for example, draw their inspiration, their ideology from the Black Power Movement, the Black Panthers. They're not necessarily routed in the civil rights movement," Vesely-Flad said.

Unlike today, the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King embraced non violence, a movement regarded as one of the most successful in history.

"It differs from movement to movement, but what we try to do is come up with and identify what those possible results might be, ways in which the movement might have been able to realize some of its goals and address some of the concerns of its constituency," UNC Sociology professor Dr. Kenneth Andrews said.

Andrews says a protest's effectiveness is based on cultural, disruptive and organizational power. When marches combine all three ingredients, they have the greatest chance of having a lasting impression.

So, will Asheville's Women's March measure up? Germain says, "Yes."

"What does that mean to be successful, is there a high turnout? Absolutely! Do people follow the movement? Absolutely! Are they effective? Absolutely!" Germain added.

But Dr Andrews says only time will tell.

"I think this is still an open question. We don't know how the movement will respond to some of its challenges, but we certainly have seen millions of people in the streets, and so there's a lot of energy there," Andrews said.

The leader of the Women's March in Asheville and others organizing marches around the nation aren't done yet. That movement lives on and is re-energizing for what's called We Are March On. They have a website and plans for marching to the polls in 2018.

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