The Myth of The Polite And Orderly Protest

The point is to be disruptive.

Last week, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court to play their scheduled NBA playoff game against the Orlando Magic in protest against systemic racism in this country and more specifically to stand in solidarity with protesters in the wake of the murder of Jacob Blake by police. This move promulgated through the sports ecosystem with the Lakers refusing to play, Naomi Osaka refusing to play her Western & Southern Open semi-final match the next day, and teams in Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, and the WNBA refusing to play their matches that week.

Bucks guard, George Hill was the catalyst for all of it, refusing to play on Wednesday, when the rest of his team joined them. He’s quoted by Yahoo Sports as saying, “It’s just sickening. It’s heartless. It’s a f — ed up situation…Like I said, you’re supposed to look at the police to protect and serve. Now, it’s looked at harass or shoot.” Sports has seen a monumental shift when it comes to activism in recent months largely due to COVID-19, and players all across are making their voices known. This represents a significant shift since before March when Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe were at times very much alone in their continued protests against racism.

Predictably, Jared Kushner, a man who hasn’t worked a single day in his life, was quick to cast aside the sports protest according to Politico saying, “Look, I think that the NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences to themselves financially.” Callous, dismissive, and condescending, Kushner’s remarks represent the latest in a trend that has rampantly metastasized during the Trump years, the notion that if only the players/activists/protesters/agitators would just protest in the right way, then we can take them seriously.

Colin Kaepernick silently kneeling is disrespecting the flag; protesters blocking streets are inconveniencing drivers; activists confronting police are violent thugs; this athlete is to rich to protest; this actor is to out of touch to protest; if only they could protest over there where I don’t have to see them, then I can listen.

Out of sight, out of mind, and only then will we even begin to consider your request, except even that is a fantasy due to the ever-changing goal posts imposed upon protesters.

The myth of the acceptable protest.

When I hear about protestors blocking roads and stopping traffic, the first instinct I have is to rail at the audacity of the inconvenience. Why are they deciding to inconvenience people who are just trying to get home? It’s an easy thought to have, and on the surface, there is a logic to it. I’m sure most people of thinking something similar at some point.

But the thing is that when you analyze and attack those thoughts, you can realize pretty quickly that the whole point of a protest is to make you uncomfortable, to attack the comfort and make it hard to look away, and a surefire way to recognize how effective a protest can be is to measure the remarkable speed with which the system snaps back. In response to the most recent sustained protests against police brutality, the system has snapped back hard. All of a sudden all of these conditions have been imposed and just like that the thrust of the protest is shrouded in a cloud of punditry that tries to dictate the most appropriate form of protest.

“If only the orderly protester could layout their demands politely,” Tucker bemoans, “then I might consider taking them seriously.”

“If only this global protest movement could perfectly police every single on of its members,” Hannity wines.

Of course, the catch is that this mythical form of polite and orderly protest has never worked for a reason. Once that thing you are protesting puts you in a box, then that’s the game. It’s all over. Once they start erecting walls around what’s acceptable, then you’re done. There’s no incentive for them to listen to you ever again, and as the old saying goes, when has power ever been given up willingly?

So the whole point is to be unruly and loud and in your face because the one thing protesters can wield effectively is human emotion. If they can generate feeling, if they can put it right in front of you, then there’s hope for change. That’s why protesters show up at houses and get in politicians faces. It’s in the hopes of sparking either empathy, shame, or both.

Telling people how to protest is privileged and wrong.

The history of successful protests in this country and around the world has always been about disruption. That’s the only way for it to be effective and if the concern trolls in the media and our government are worried about protests, then two things are true: the protests are working and the only way to stop them is to honestly and thoroughly address their concerns.

You want the protests to end? Attack the issues that Black Lives Matter and others are reacting too. The right to petition government for redress is enshrined within our Constitution. And if they are serious with their chants, there will be no peace until there is justice. If I were you government, an easy first step would be to remove the antagonizing forces that seek out violence and harm against protesters, namely police thuggery, white supremacist groups, and the biggest antagonizer of all: Donald Trump.

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