Thursday, February 2, 2017

There are two ways to protest

Yes, there are two ways to protest - the effective way and the ineffective way.  The first way moves you closer to your actual goals, the other way does not move you to your goal and may, in fact, move you away from your goal - that is unless your goal is to not actually to achieve anything positive but is instead to give oneself a feeling of righteousness and a false sense of moral superiority.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow activists certainly were effective in their method of protest - it was their protests that lead to actual legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  That law and others led to a gradual improvement in the lives of many minority citizens and, in fact, all Americans.  The achievements are undeniable and we are lucky to have had a Martin Luther King Jr. in our midst.

For me, the hallmark of MLK's method of protest was that it was actually peaceful and the only laws that might be broken were the very laws that were unjust. Laws against blocking traffic, rioting and so on are not unjust laws and he did not encourage any of this kind of lawbreaking. Also, he advocated boycotts of the offending systems of discrimination and this was also an elegant tool in the toolbox of this great American.

MLK did not promote the breaking of windows of storefronts or throwing rocks at police even though the stores may have discriminated against them and the police forces were pawns of white supremacists.  He and other civil rights leaders and marchers took their lumps and spent time in jail but they did not engage in criminal mischief and did not victimize others in retaliation for the massive injustices perpetrated against them.  They and their co-protesters were the bravest of the brave.

On the other hand there were many protesters in that same period who did throw rocks at police and burned down businesses that they resented.  They also harmed the lives of innocent bystanders as well.  Did they get the results they desired?  If you are talking about improving the lives of the oppressed, it is doubtful.  This kind of behavior is not likely to move someone to your side if they are currently on the fence.  Lawmakers similarly do not like being coerced by the threat of violence.  However, if you believe the goal of violent protesters was retribution and a selfish goal of self-righteousness, they probably succeeded in achieving those empty gestures.

That little bit of background brings us quickly to today where we have the example of two kinds of protests that occurred in the last week.  The first and largest protests were the well organized and properly permitted Women's Marches that occurred all over the U.S.  I attended the march in Manhattan and it was an amazing event.  The general theme was a protest against President Trump's apparent misogyny epitomized by his bragging about his own pattern of sexual assault, later confirmed by alleged actual victims.  It was an amazing chain of events; Trump had confessed (via video of an old TV show) followed by over 10 women claiming to having been his victims, to his denial of ever doing what he bragged about doing followed by his incredibly insulting rants against his accusers!  All was forgiven by Trump's supporters as he predicted - he had said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and they would still vote for him.  He was pretty much correct.

Obviously the protest was peaceful - supposedly 1,000,000 people participated around the country and only about 4 arrests were reported.  A week or so later the marches had an approval rating of about 60% which is pretty good considering 40% or so of the country supports the President.  This is how you conduct a protest.  There is hope that a movement was begun with these marches.

In contrast, on 2/1/17, "protests that erupted at UC Berkeley ahead of a planned Wednesday appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus, the school said Thursday.  The university blamed "150 masked agitators" for the unrest, saying they had come to campus to disturb an otherwise peaceful protest.  Two Berkeley College Republicans "were attacked while conducting an interview" on the campus on Thursday, UC Berkeley also said in a prepared statement. The attackers, who were not affiliated with the university, were taken into custody by UC Berkeley police."  (Go to  The appearance was canceled.

If you wanted to promote Milo Yiannopolous (a Breitbart contributor) and increase his popularity, this was the absolute best way to do it.  Imagine the mileage Milo will get out of this incident!  He will look like the free speech champion and those who object to his misogynistic and race baiting style will become associated with censorship and violence by those looking on from afar.  This outcome is far better for Yiannopolous than actually giving the speech.

The protesters got it all wrong; they should have boycotted the event or held an alternative event.  What they should not have done, above all other things, is perpetrate violence and prevent free speech even by a loathsome individual.  That is the wrong way to protest - the ineffective way.

Here is my message to those who are not happy with the President or his apologists: Do not give the administration ammunition to drum up popular support to effectively prohibit dissent.  I personally do not care whether you do feel morally superior or self righteous or not.  I care about the results.

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