What good is protesting anyway?
“So what good is protesting anyway?”
A legitimate question I hear now, and from “both sides of the aisle,” “opponents” and “compatriots” alike.” I have heard this question a lot these days. So much so that I felt I needed to answer, while also knowing this question is complex and I don’t feel I have an answer. so, to rephrase, I wanted to put out my response. I think this is a valid question.
where to start?
I feel opponents say this in mockery and blindsightedness.
a dichotomy of either protesters are unemployed sore losers just trying to get on TV who have nothing better to do or real hardworking folk trying to make a say and taking a stand for what they believe in…
so much bias.
First, I feel I should address my own. I feel I have been blogging about protest for some time, so a compilation. More seriously, I think my views have drastically changed over the years. In short, from being pro-violence to non-violence only. And to be be self aware and in all truth to address that.
Also, by “violence” and any support of violence I may have had, I only meant in terms of perhaps vandalism, property damage, and would never condone people hurting each other.
So I went back through my blogs to find what all I said in chronological order. Before I delve into that, I think it’s probably best to start with defining some terms.
semantics (my personal definitions):
Protest: a gathering of large groups of people in a public place to make a public display of a kind of political statement; could be violent or non-violent
Violent protest: when protesting becomes offensive, angry, and there is vandalism and property damage
Non-violent protest: when protesting is peaceful, more passive…or an active kind of passiveness, you can be angry, but restrain that anger to shouts and chants, no pushing, shoving, no looting, vandalism or property damage, if there is resistance, it is peaceful resistance, such as by blocking a road or sitting down
March: some, notably the Women’s March, are using the term “march” instead of protest, I think to have even more peaceful connotations, and/or to connote marching for something as opposed to protesting against something
Riot: this could either be a form of a violent protest or not a protest, I tend to think the difference is that protests have a message they are trying to convey, whereas rioting, I think has lost sight of the message or never had a message – anger for anger’s sake, essentially; associated with violence and destruction
I had said:
London riots –
“For many, it’s simply a chance to blow stuff up, steal some stuff, and get a “bit of the old ultra-violence”. But riots usually don’t start without cause and, though I’m no sociologist, I’m willing to bet it’s a reflection of poverty and anger against a state that doesn’t care. The only question is whether violence and vigilantism are merited.”
I wrote then:
“The final question, I suppose, is whether rioting actually accomplishes anything. And I say it does. From the point of view of the rioter, it’s a long-needed venting, and perhaps provides a sense of purpose. As a society, perhaps it’s a needed release valve. Give the masses their revolts every once in a while to keep them in check. And as noted in the “sympathetic” article earlier (Fletcher, NBC), it grabs public and political attention. Whether it will elicit political change or improve conditions for the working poor, I doubt it. But better than nothing.”
In the fairness of pointing out my hypocrisies and/or change of opinion, now, in 2017, I believe protesting has to be non-violent. And I see why. If you loot, vandal, break things, the only message you are potentially sending is that you are the bad guy. and/or you encourage negative stereotypes against you that your opposition may have already had.
I think whether or not to riot is a more complicated issue than to only look at it dualistically. There may be some potential pros to rioting.
(and again, for the record, if I ever do write that I advocate violent protesting, I am thinking of the word violent only as it applies to property damage, never to people…which, by the way, is again why I shouldn’t use the word violent…)
ok, so I think there may tentatively be some pros towards either rioting or violent protests, with the caveat that the violence in question only occurs to property and not people, living beings…
1) it grabs attention; people argue that they have peacefully protested again and again and again and never got news coverage, but once there was violence, news coverage
2) a societal release valve, which, historically, societies have needed, to keep the masses and governance in check, a release valve to let out tensions with socioeconomic classes etc. which might keep anger from getting so high that revolutions occur
but cons to violent protest and/or riots
1) you get news coverage, but negative news coverage; and maybe that’s worse… instead of sending a message to your opposition that you want change, you unintentionally send the message to your opposition that you are the bad guy, and it strengthens their position, not yours
1b) as they say, don’t become the hate you are fighting against
1c) some argue that peaceful protest can be more powerful and send a stronger message
1d) if there is a large group of people peacefully protesting and a small group inciting violence, they ruin it for everybody due to what the media is going to focus on and exploit and then the public thinks all the protesters were violent
2)ok, you do need some kind of release valve, but yelling and screaming and breaking things is likely not to elicit change to solve the problem… I think, on a personal level, you need to allow yourself to be angry or sad and let it out in some kind of way – maybe for some that’s getting drunk, or others going and punching a heavy bag, or going to a protest to chant… but then, after getting the rage out, move on to figure out how to channel that towards now fixing the problem instead of only complaining about it… it is very easy to criticize and very hard to create solutions…
remember Occupy Wall Street?
I think the problem with Occupy Wall Street was that they were too vague. They intentionally didn’t want to have a leader so as to speak against the hierarchical power structure, and to be a co-op instead. But how can a movement coalesce without a leader? (maybe it couldn’t then, but is now, notably with Black Lives Matter, but also the Women’s March Movement, groups that are more co-op than revolving around one leader) Occupy Wall Street fell apart, I think, because they didn’t coalesce around specific principles and a specific platform. So it did become an umbrella for people who were angry, about any number of things, and was too general to be able to push to the next stage of trying to change the system. or so it seems.
They were mentioned on NPR just yesterday when the speaker was talking about how protesting can be effective with even just small numbers of people.
and that brings me to somewhat the present, the 2016 election and its aftermath:
protest and participate:
bitterness right after the election:
January 10th, 2017
January 20-21, 2017
Inauguration Day Protest and Women’s March Protest
protesting the 1st Muslim ban:
Tax Day protests:
Naperville, Chicago suburb:
violence in Berkeley, CA and protests nationwide:
planned protests for
4/22/17, Scientists’ March/Earth Day March
4/29/17, People’s Climate March/1st 100 Days
So many protests, so little time. So what’s the point? Beyond being cathartic for the participants, and/or a means to feel you are doing something, if nothing else, they are a visual display to the outside world that some of the public disagrees with various policies and political regimes.
As to the actual message being sent out, again, as above, it gets muddled. By the news coverage. and by the bias of those perceiving it. whether you are inclined to believe that these are people speaking out against something or whether you think they are angry sore losers.
The violence that occurred with a small group at the DC Inauguration tended to disproportionately dwarf the thousands of peaceful protesters who were there, more or less. But also, the Inauguration protests were dwarfed by the massive Women’s March the next day. (which I’m ok with) My experience, having been at both, was that the Inauguration was the anger and despair and frustration, whereas the Women’s March was positive, encouraging, enthusiastic, a sense of unity and people standing for something, as opposed to against something.
But even still… what of it? I think the Women’s March was big enough and peaceful enough that it couldn’t be ignored. I think it has merit in turning that momentum into a movement and ushering many people to continue to be politically active moving forward: forming meetings in your neighborhood, attending townhalls, writing congressmen, etc.
“Why still have protests? He’s elected, what’s done is done. we get it, you don’t like it…”
well, maybe to continually keep up the momentum, instead of just accepting things as they are. and there are continual ongoing issues to be upset about, from civil rights to climate change to healthcare to various legislation. Maybe the protests are a way of keeping the momentum going. You need to be doing other things (townhalls, writing congressmen, etc.) but the protests can be events that continue to generate energy, continue to show public resistance visually.
I guess what I’m coming around to is that you have to do more than protest, to really make effective change. but that protests can be useful for getting people involved, keeping people involved, and showing the public how many feel. But yes, we need to do more. and also work on what image is being projected (specific platforms, nonviolence).
To that end, I’ve written about other actions to take, as well as maybe trying to bridge some of the divides through discussion with opposing sides:
I think that’s about all I’ve got for now.
p.s. I kinda feel like Lewis Black: