Sunday, January 4, 2015

To All The Protests I've Loved Before

I've heard it said, and honestly believe it to be true, that culturally we're at a time of racial tension that is as heightened as it has been since the '60's. And as someone who has always been a believer in standing for what is right, this both intrigues me and leads me to some questions about the right and proper role in effecting change.

Please realize in what I am saying in the following words, I am not, nor will I ever, make the decision for you. You must make the decision for where your conscience leads. As must I.

But something telling happened in some of the larger protests. In Ferguson, I would argue, many of the protestors forgot why they were marching. Burning down the businesses that kept that community from becoming a blight accomplished nothing. In fact it hurt the larger cause in Ferguson very badly, because that is all the outsiders saw. Were it not for social media contacts of mine such as Shane Claiborne, it would be easy for me to believe that Ferguson was entirely race baiting, arson and violence.

And that was hardly the case. But the voices of reason were drowned out as the cameras turned towards the next inferno.

Similarly, the blockading of the bridges in New York. Initially I supported it, but then an older protestor brought up some good counter arguments to the contrary. Ultimately it accomplished nothing, and may have even turned some fence sitters against the cause.

The Mall of America protest did much the same. Most people didn't know, or care, what it was about. All they cared about was they couldn't get to the stores.

And before we go railing on about the evils of consumerism, isn't it the right of those consumers to decide? I may not want to shop at a given store, or for a given product, but it really isn't my right to dictate to others what they should or should not shop for, or even where they should or should not shop.

To put it simply, I believe we need to rethink the nature of protests. I am as prolife as they come, but I am repulsed by some of the images put in front of me by very well meaning individuals. I dislike war, but I do not need to see the maimed and mutilated bodies of children. Some would argue that it angers people, and would even argue that the anger is good.

I would argue that the anger is bad, even counter productive. We don't need anger in the discussion, we need rational, intelligent peace makers.

Protests have accomplished much in human history. There's no question about that. But if we continually and repeatedly stage protests, it is very easy to diminish their value. And often a point can be made in a more positive nature.

So I would encourage fellow activists to think about the way they are presenting their messages going forward. Are your opponents seeing anger and hostility? Or are they seeing a message of love, peace, and positive action? Can we find a way to show people that the underlying theme of our cause is producing a positive action, or must we forever be showing ourselves to be angry, chattering mobs?

I don't regret any of the actions I've supported, or in which I have taken part. But I don't believe that a message of anger works, or is in any way appealing.