By Diana Diamond
Do peaceful protests do any good? How about the more violent ones?Uploaded: Aug 4, 2020
For the past couple of months, protests condemning the deadly beating by police in Minneapolis of George Floyd and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have arisen in large and small communities around the country. The conflict between protesters and police got nasty in Portland, particularly after President Trump sent in untrained aggressive Homeland Security officers to defend a federal building, which brought a new round of protests from Portlandians who objected to the federal government sending troops into a small city. The goons finally left.
The "Black Lives Matter" protests spread throughout the country and were very effective, because it brought a new realization of the problems African Americans have faced in this country for years, problems that are still not over. And support for the movement came from young and old, and people of all races, including an outpouring of whites.
But I want to ask a more philosophical question today: Are protests effective? Are they the best way to make changes in our society?
I drive through Palo Alto, frequently see a group of about 10 people standing on the corner of Embarcadero and El Camino, waving flags and holding signs. I simply drive by, paying little attention. I've seen people standing on that corner wanting peace for years. As well intentioned as they are, are they effective?
The Raging Grannies have dutifully stood in Lytton Plaza or in front of city hall rallying for a variety of causes for years. I know some of the women, and admire what they are doing, but does it make a difference in my life? No.
But then a friend pointed out to me that to get things done and movements started, they practically always start small. I never quite thought about it that way. But that was the way Greta Thunberg, the Swedish young activist, started, wasn't it? As you recall, she was the teenager promoting the view that humanity is facing an existential crisis arising from climate change. She soon was speaking before the United Nations.
Another friend said that younger people, like her grandson, are finding that peaceful protests really don't accomplish much -- they have to become more active, even violent, conflicts before people and the press really starts to notice them. Her grandson may be right.
This country was born in dissent. Protests are part of America's history. The first occurred in 1765 -- the Stamp Act Riots, which were prompted because the British declared that all printed material was to be taxed for British coffers. After the riots, a rattled British government repealed that tax act the very next year. The riots became the foundation for the American union.
They were followed in 1773 by the Boston Tea Party, then the Dorr Rebellion in 1841, started in anger after Congress had established some very distinct rules on what a person must do to vote in an election, including paying the government $134. Dorr, a Harvard graduate, and his friends rioted, and soon the rules were changed to a $1 fee. (Seems like Dorr should be around today to provide another uprising against the voting restrictions that now are occurring, especially in conservative states and the South).
In recent years, Congressman John Lewis's exhibited courage and outrage when he was crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. In an incident that became known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers and police attacked the marchers, including Lewis. Martin Luther King through his nonviolent marches has become an American icon. His movement has been followed by a continuing series of Black protests against injustices.
There was the Women's March in D. C. on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Trump was inaugurated. I'm not sure that accomplished a lot, since the march was about numerous issues (pro-abortion, anti-abortion, equal pay, need for child care, etc.). It did once again point out that women must have a voice in this country. It took the suffragettes 100 years to get the 19th Amendment adopted, giving them the right to vote.
It's been 48 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was passed in Congress, and one state still must ratify it so it can become adopted. Maybe we need a big protest from women around the country to get the E.R.A. passed.
I have concluded that peaceful and violent riots do work a good part of the time, and are a way to effectuate change. They are not the only way but are needed. I totally dislike the violent outbreaks, but if things have to change for moral or political reasons or to protect citizens' rights, then marches and protests riots are necessary.
Protests are a symbol of American democracy in action.