In the past few months, we have seen public protests that have exhibited plenty of anger–but have accomplished little.
The idea of a protest is–to win over others to one’s side.
I remember a conversation in a car on a way to the massive Solidarity Day protest in Washington, D.C. in 1981. In the front passenger seat, an older (liberal) woman was commenting on an anti-war protest during the Vietnam War. She was AT the event. She talked about the young people who broke off from the march to go dipping in the Capitol Reflecting Pool as seen in the anti-war protest in the movie Forrest Gump. In the movie, ONE person went into the pool. In real life, LOTS of young protesters jumped in.
A young man sitting in the back seat of our car defended those of his generation who jumped in the pool. “They just wanted to have fun,” he said gleefully.
The older woman in the front seat responded: It turned off a lot of people–not only those who weren’t AT the event but even many who were IN the protest.
Didn’t matter to some of the young. They simply ignored the importance of despoiling a national symbol in front of a national audience.
They just wanted to have fun?!
The protest was serious business. The war was beyond the government’s control. Thousands were dying. Much was at stake in this protest. Organizers worked hard to put it all together. Only to have a handful of kids spoil the message with their reckless behavior?!
One wonders why these young people even participated. What were they thinking the protest was FOR–to have fun? Could they restrain their conduct for the sake of an important cause?
The purpose of a protest is–to raise awareness AND to bring others over to one’s side.
But how many people participating in these actions seem too easily satisfied? They suppose that as long as they’re IN on an issue, doing something–anything–they’re involved, they’re helping.
In the “Ferguson” protests, there have been self-indulgent individuals (let alone a criminal element) who vent their anger any way they can–burning stores and cars, beating up the innocent. Taking it out on the innocent includes–blocking traffic on a highway.
Last summer, the Governor of New Jersey was accused not of blocking rush-hour traffic but of merely DELAYING traffic, causing a back-up on a major highway. If he had been found culpable (he wasn’t), it would have been an impeachable offense. There were alarms about ambulances unable to reach people, drivers with pressing needs unable to move, etc.
But protesters seem to think THEY can do these things. Taking it out on the innocent is a losing strategy. These people have been setting back the movement in a big way. They not only don’t win anybody to their side; they actually firm up hard feelings of opposition.
We are seeing now the backlash–in the form of protests of those in support of police officers as well as BY police officers.
And some of these officers themselves are not winning over others. The self-indulgent behavior of those who satisfy their own urges by turning their backs whenever the Mayor of New York City appears before them in public have been ignoring the requests of other officers, like one of the more outspoken union presidents who has said, the time for protest is NOT during a time of mourning.
The more I see of the undisciplined behavior of some protesters, the more I admire the care that leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., took to think through their actions. THEY knew. A protest will agitate–ANY protest will annoy those sitting at home watching on TV–but ultimately the purpose of an action is to gain sympathy.
Protesters can win begrudging respect. They exhibit the willingness to sacrifice their own dignity and comfort, putting themselves out there–in public, willing to be criticized. They understand–the hard-liners who are against us will always be against us. The key is to win over the non-committed. And losing them is easier than winning them over.