The history of democracy is the history of protest. Sometimes protest leads to revolution, other times to repression and retaliation by the people in power. Odd though it may seem, however, there are basic rules to effective and productive protest that ensures that two critical things happen: your message is heard and you don’t alienate people with your tactics.
This is true regardless of whether your protest emerges from the left or the right. On the left, spiking trees to protest logging and causing the death or injury of loggers is not effective protest. On the right, harassing people who are attending the funerals of gay people killed in a mass shooting ensures that most everyone despises you.
But you don’t have to hurt people to lose support from the public. And that’s where we need to pick up this conversation, because it seems like many millennials, in their zeal to wear their beliefs on their sleeves and be Social Justice Warriors, are forgetting that civil disobedience needs to be civil.
Much to the displeasure of the left, Donald Trump won the election fair and square and is the new President of the United States. Clearly there are still people who are having an extremely hard time digesting this fact, and so they protest. Some of that protest is reasonably civil, like actor Shia LaBeouf’s “art installation” protesting President Trump, but other protests? Seems like many radical lefties get confused and forget what they’re actually protesting.
For example, if you want to protest President Trump, picketing one of his properties is a viable tactic. Defacing and destroying one of his golf courses, which thousands of people enjoy using every year? Not so much.
And yet, that’s exactly what a group of environmental activists did when they videotaped themselves defacing a Trump-owned golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. What did they write across the green of hole five? “No More Tigers, No More Woods,” wry wordplay with the name of golfing legend Tiger Woods, but also the destruction of property—not the savviest way to get their message of protest across.
Worse was a protest that occurred recently in my home town of Boulder, Colorado: Two vegan activists (yes, that’s a thing) destroyed over $1000 worth of meat at a local natural market. Because evidently they believe that their eating choices should dictate how we all eat, fifteen-year-old Ateret Goldman and twenty-three-year-old Max Knight of the activist group Direct Action Everywhere held a “funeral for the slaughtered animals” in the meat department at the store. They videotaped themselves placing flowers directly on unsold meat, which then had to be destroyed because it was tainted.
While many activists are satisfied marching with witty or snarky signs, some clearly don’t follow the “civil” part of the “civil disobedience” platform very closely. Protests against right-wing speaker and raconteur Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, California, left over $100,000 in damaged property. (This is nothing new: In 1999, these same left-wing activists forced the city of Seattle to spend over three million dollars on additional security during the World Trade Organization annual meeting, and caused an estimated twenty million dollars in damage and lost sales). Student protesters at Middlebury College recently assaulted a professor (giving her a concussion) because she had invited scholar Charles Murray to campus to give a lecture. Students refused to let him speak and, according to the injured professor, “attacked and intimidated” her and Mr. Murray as they were trying to leave campus.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said of violent protests that “there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest.” Mahatma Gandhi was even more direct: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”
Protest is part of the lifeblood of democracy because no ruling party can ever represent every opinion or every perspective. So get out there and march, write to your representatives, slap on a bumper sticker, and bring your best arguments to social media.
But hurting people? Damaging property? That’s not civil disobedience. That’s terrorism, regardless of what cause you claim to be representing.