We talk a lot about the way people protest. When a group rallies to protest, we complain that they’re blocking traffic or impeding normal day to day life. When those protests turn violent (either by circumstance, intent, or outside manipulation) we argue that they’re criminals, why should we listen to them? When students walk out of their own graduation in protest, we call them disrespectful or crybabies. When a professional football player takes a knee to silently but visibly protest about something he believes strongly, we call him unpatriotic.
I say “we” in this because sometimes I have those knee-jerk reactions. They’re always very brief, but I still sometimes have them. I personally, have only a few things that I could protest that affect me directly. I’m not black, I’m not gay, I’m not a woman, I’m not transgender, I’m not hispanic. But I am human. And I am affected by changes to our education and healthcare policies, so I do have a few things to “personally” protest. So I’ve been thinking a lot about protest lately, and the way that change is enacted.
Protest doesn’t work at all if the person(s)/idea(s)/organization(s) being protest isn’t(aren’t) inconvenienced in some way. An invisible protest isn’t a protest at all. Nobody would have noticed or commented, if 100+ graduates simply hadn’t shown up. If that football player had waited to take a knee when he got home, would we have talked about the issue he raised at all?
We complain about the way people protest, and we condemn the moment that protest turns violent. But we also have to think about why protests do turn violent. Sometimes, it’s a plan B. Sometimes, something happens to escalate it into violence. Someone is attacked, something is thrown, someone is pepper sprayed, etc. Violence leads to more violence. Sometimes groups infiltrate peaceful protests to incite violence, and make the protesters look bad.
Violence is never the answer, but it happens. We need to look at ways to keep protest from becoming violent. The first and second reasons I listed above can be mitigated. The third, I just don’t know.
So what’s the answer? You know as well as I do there isn’t ONE answer. But I think I may know one way. We, those of us who aren’t disenfranchised in one or more ways, or even those of us who are disenfranchised in different ways, need to be able to listen to and understand what protests are saying. And be willing to learn, and be willing to talk, and be willing to change.
We can’t complain about the method of protest, if we’re not willing to provide avenues that WILL work. And that’s on us.