Let’s Talk About (Peaceful) Protest

Readers, the reason this post is coming to you so late is largely due to the fact that yours truly, in a rare moment of weakness, opted to keep working on his latest installment of “Explaining American Politics To Americans”. The subject was going to be Democrats, and as the post stands currently, it’s just too…

…well, mean.

Even by my standards.

And this is coming from a guy who has likened certain social groups the human equivalent of cancer…

Now that’s left me with the question of what to cover instead, and as I was browsing the internet, I came across these two images:

Old, definitely, but it reminded me of a topic that I’ve touched on a lot without ever actually covering.

Peaceful Protest

…or is that even a fair thing to call it?

I mean, we praise peaceful dissent practically to the exclusion of all other forms of protest. We idolize figures like Martin Luther King Jr. while reviling folks like Malcolm X or Huey P. Newton, largely on the grounds that they advocated self defense.

Gandhi, in the same vein, gets painted as a hero, even though plenty of folks don’t know much about him except for the peaceful protest. Pick any major dissenter in recent history, and I’d put good money on him or her being labeled saintly for being “peaceful” and tragically-flawed (if not out-rightly monstrous) for being violent.

But here’s the issue- is peaceful protest really all that peaceful?

For all our mindless praise, we tend to forget that the civil rights protestors of the 1960s consistently caused public disturbances. Sit-ins were explicitly against the law. Marches often disrupted traffic. In fact, in his legendary letter penned from Birmingham Jail, MLK himself responded to criticism that his protests had interfered with daily business and life in the city. Gandhi was similarly disruptive in many of his actions- his boycotts (adopted by the civil rights, anti apartheid, and BDS protestors years later) directly inflicted damage upon Britain. And not just the government of Britain, but plenty of folks within the country as well. Without a doubt, there were plenty of folks who lost their jobs as a result of the attrition the boycott caused. The “Swadeshi Movement”, as it was called, almost certainly resulted in some average British folks losing money, encountering hardship, or even losing their livelihoods.

And isn’t that the ****ing point?

These days, it seems that any kind of dissent not relegated to internet forums and online petitions gets labeled as juvenile, irrational, or even wantonly destructive. Even if protestors merely take to the streets, they get accused of blocking traffic, keeping people from their jobs, and a host of other sins. But what’s the alternative?

If folks were to walk out into the middle of an empty field, wave some banners, shout at nobody in particular, and then go home, what would possibly be accomplished? If the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong had simply written stern letters voicing their discontent, would anyone really care?

Any protest- even the most nonviolent- should still carry some ****ing punch to it. If there’s no consequences, no ramifications, no tangible results to those in power, well, what’s the use?

No seriously, what possibly purpose does it serve? If I were a power-mad dictator or even just mildly complicit in a corrupt system, I’m not exactly going to be all that responsive to your good vibes, am I? What you can appeal to, however, is my need for order, and threatening that order is perhaps the only way  you’re going to get through to me. I and my cronies might cite all the complaints I listed above, but again, if I had nothing to complain about, what reason would I have to change anything?

And with the way some of the media’s been- especially during the recent Ferguson protests- it does seem that there’s a trend here. That any kind of protest or dissent with even the slightest chance of being disruptive gets castigated as being on par with flipped cars and Molotov cocktails.

Not that I necessarily have an issue with that either- but that’s another discussion…

And lest anyone accuse me of being woefully melodramatic, I do believe that there’s a danger of this mentality becoming part-and-parcel of dissent. I do worry that folks who genuinely want to the right thing while causing the least amount of harm possible will get it into their heads that the only way to make an omelet is without breaking eggs. It’s both an utter whitewashing of our history and detriment to our future. Damn it- it needs to stop.

Look, if you’re the kind of person who’s got a big, soft heart, hey- more power to ya. And I really do mean that- there’s enough cynical, angry folks in the world as is. That said, you cannot get it into your head that the best way to respond to injustice is with inaction- and that’s exactly what plenty of critics are calling for, inaction. And yes, that’s an accusation I’d level at even good ol’ Jon Stewart up there (I love the guy, but I still can disagree with him on no small number of subjects). As far as the “innocent” people go, well, I know that’s gotta be rough. Some dude’s just trying to get to work to feed his family, the last thing he needs is a bunch of protestors blocking the intersection. But I gotta ask- whose fault is that really? Sure, folks are gonna point the finger at you, but you wouldn’t be out there in the first place if those in actual positions of power didn’t abuse the system. Nonviolent protest seems the best possible option for those folks.

I might not (okay, don’t) agree with those methods all the time, but what we surely can agree on is that any form of dissent is only as commendable as its ability to raise hell.

That, dear readers, is the point.

Get to it.

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2 responses to “Let’s Talk About (Peaceful) Protest

  1. I think you make a really key point. Not to mention it’s pretty damning when the crime of causing inconvenience trumps the moral certitude of injustice.

  2. Pingback: Bernie Sanders VS. Black Lives Matter: How Is This Helping? | Culture War Reporters

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