Non-Violent Protest Often Veers Off Course

With Black History Month coming to a close, let’s seriously consider the nature of non-violent protest in today’s America. Some who currently claim the moniker of “non-violent protestor” betray the very concept of the originators. They have subverted an ideal and distorted it into a form of protest that encourages the perpetration of violence.

Although Henry David Thoreau is considered the originator of this movement, Mahatma Gandhi receives accolades for raising the practice to new levels. One who truly embraces Gandhi’s form of non-violent protest understands he espoused satyagrha – social action based on truth, courage and non-violence. He believed it was more important the way people behaved, than what they achieved. Although he firmly believed in non-violence, Gandhi held that violence was better than cowardice.

Let’s look at the present-day non-violent protestors and see how they compare to the ideals. Some protestors actually encourage the use of violence against them. Groups from the interminable World Bank protests fall into this category. They endanger the health and livelihood of others – many of which have no ties to that which they are protesting. They chain themselves across streets and building entrances. The authorities have no choice but to remove them forcibly. They have invented methods which make their removal more difficult by using special handcuffs and PVC pipes. How can this be considered as a non-violent goal? To be arrested has become a badge of honor within such organizations.

This is not at all what Gandhi advocated. In fact, his reaction to arrest was: “When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities.”

And, the “truth” – that which Gandhi thought was crucial to his practice — has been lost in the noise. Many protestors resort to yelling inflammatory statements or bearing inflammatory signs. Somehow “Death to Pigs,” seen in a recent California protest against the shooting of a young criminal by police, fails to convey a true belief. It is a message of hate designed to illicit a visceral response – and does not embody the true intent of non-violent protest. Another interesting sign from an IMF protest said: “I Am Here, I Am Queer, And I Hate the IMF.” Now, I’m not sure what the purpose of this sign was. Is it this guy’s international “coming out” party, or is his sexual preference somehow related to IMF activities?

There are Web sites dedicated to the how, what and where of non-violent protest. It has become a religion, in its own rite. It is often no longer a method to achieve a particular goal; it is a way of life searching for an object, practice or organization on which to focus. Practitioners of this new form of non-violent protest become enamored of the ideal – the David against Goliath fantasy. Do they truly believe in a cause; or, do they just enjoy in the ritual?

The militant “non-violent” protestors (to use an oxymoron) often refuse to allow protestors with opposite viewpoints to stand near them. Apparently, First Amendment rights are only available for the like-minded. I have included a link below which provides a first-person account of such an event.

In fairness, many non-violent protestors still conform to the original principles advocated by Gandhi and practiced by Martin Luther King. These idealists are passionate about a specific cause. However, they are becoming increasingly overshadowed by those embracing the act of civil disobedience in lieu of the cause.

ProtestWarrior’s Experience with DAWN (DC Anti-War Network)



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3 Responses to “Non-Violent Protest Often Veers Off Course”

  1. Adam says:

    MLK at the start of the bus boycott questioned if it was moral to inflict trouble upon people who owned the busses, or made a living from driving it. They were not in fact the direct target of the boycott, but instead the institution of segregation. In that instance it had to do with weighing the importance of the situation. I think that parallels to the people chaining themselves together and such.

    However, the movements under King contained people willing to go to jail daily for the cause. It was one of the biggest attacks against the system. Indeed, things have changed though. It’s good of you to point out that there is a diminishing few who are dedicated to the standards of non-violence. I agree with the idea that there are people seeking the actions of the movement, not the results of the movement. It’s pretty sad.

    I disagree for the most part with what Protest Warrior stands for. I don’t believe they give the true scope of the protests. It would be interesting to be on the inside of the organization to see how much footage they have to cut out in order to combine a series of violent approaches into their videos. I’m not saying it’s what they do, but I’m saying I’d like to know.

  2. Surfside says:

    I disagree with you, Adam, that the bus protest was similar to chaining yourself across doors and streets. The bus was the issue, or a direct manifestation — although the bus driver was not. The bus companies did not reject racist practices, but embraced it. And, Gandhi did not believe in resisting arrest at all. The chains, in and of themselves, would be counter to his teachings.

    Protest Warrior may or may give the true scope of their experiences. I have still not reached a conclusion for myself. However, they have received scorn, verbal abuse and sometimes violence from other “non-violent” protestor claiming to embrace the practice. You are right, though, it would be interesting to see the entire footage. I am not a fan of spin regardless from which side it comes.

  3. Adam says:

    I only tried to connect the idea of the protests, not their actions. Chaining is not always resisting arrest though I believe, but I agree with your thoughts that the willingness to be arrested has declined.

    I hate the violence shown to protest warriors. There is no call for it. I just don’t believe it represents the full scope of the left protests, as protest warrior seems to try and make it seem.