Frontline: A defense of peaceful protests
Opinions of the Editorial Board, in collaboration with Melissa McCarthy
In light of worldwide protests in objection to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, one question must be addressed: how can we make our voices heard without resorting to eventual violence and hate?
During the Women’s March on Bellingham, there was potential for a conflict to occur. At the corner of Commercial and Holly, a single man wavied his “Trump: Make America Great Again” flag against the waves of passing signs. Rather than polarizing and ridiculing this man, a circle of people formed around him, sporting pink “pussyhats” and Planned Parenthood gear. Rather than facing the man, the group faced outward, drowning out his message. “Love trumps hate,” they shouted repeatedly.
Protesting is a necessary and deeply moving tool for expressing public opinion. The U.S. Constitution protects peaceful assembly, though it does not condone violence or destruction of property. No matter the positive intentions behind a movement, it jeopardizes its credibility in the public’s eye as soon as violence occurs. If the threat of arrest is not enough to deter passionate activists from overstepping their causes, maybe responses from adversaries can make them reconsider their actions. There is a fine line between creating valuable change and providing ammunition for protest opposers.
Acts of violence ultimately distract from the core message of the protest. Suddenly headlines turn from “Trump protests outnumber Trump inauguration” to “Radical liberals destroy property.” Protest participants represent their movement, so when one participant acts destructively, the overall movement is perceived as destructive.
Occurrences of excessive violence by the state against protesters have become increasingly normalized. For example, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were blasted with water cannons in below freezing temperatures, sending numerous people to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia, according to the Washington Post. But this isn’t new. In 2014 police used tear gas and rubber bullets on a widely peaceful crowd in Ferguson, Missouri at a rally after the death of Michael Brown, according to IFEX news.
It may be tempting to combat violence with violence but to act this way only legitimizes these excessive measures. As soon as one protester reacts in aggression, the state’s use of force becomes warranted and continual.
Vocal outcry brings significant issues into societal and, potentially, legislative discussion. Historically, this type of civic duty has brought change into governmental sights with major grassroots movements like women’s suffrage and civil rights. People stood up. They marched, they moved, they shouted. Because substantial citizen involvement in peaceful protests, these movements shifted public opinion and were able to make their causes a reality.
Peaceful protests are one of many nonviolent ways to make tangible change. This could include reaching out to a local representative, making donations to a nonprofit that may be in jeopardy, and filling out a ballot each voting cycle. Civic engagement does not end at the end of a march route; it is an ongoing commitment to the causes and policies that better the sometimes toxic world we inhabit.