We Need Both Peaceful and Non-Violent Protesters

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”– Former U.S. Representative and civil rights leader, John Lewis (tweet June, 2018).

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 19: Congressman/Civil Rights Icon John Lewis views for the first time images and his arrest record for leading a nonviolent sit-in at Nashville’s segregated lunch counters, March 5, 1963. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Thousands of Portlanders are showing up in support of Black Lives, against police brutality and more recently, against the involvement of the militarized Feds in our city.  There is a current dispute about which strategies are effective. I find this recent Facebook post from Portland resident Scott Swigart “So you support peaceful protests?” to be a helpful perspective.

“Peaceful: People chanting, holding signs, marching, singing, getting a permit for the march, complying with directions from authorities.

Violent: Throwing Molotov cocktails, bricks, etc.

Non-violent: Non-compliance with directions from authorities, civil disobedience, trespassing, graffiti, property damage, harmless fires, pop-up ribs restaurant in the park to feed protesters without a permit, throwing empty plastic water bottles.

Here’s the thing. While peaceful protesters are critical, no successful protest movement has ever been entirely peaceful. And here’s why.

Leaders can ignore peaceful protests. There’s no reason to crack down on them. They’re no threat to anything. They lose steam over time. They don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Non-violent protesters provoke a state response. Sit-ins, starting a fire on the concrete sidewalk near the concrete justice center. Taking the fence down around the justice center. These are things the state can’t simply ignore.

When non-violent protesters act, the state, and here’s the important part, indiscriminately overreacts, and inflicts violence on the whole group of protesters. The 95% peaceful ones, and the agitators.

And that makes persuasive photos and video.

‘Feds Gas Portland Mayor’ only made worldwide headlines because some anonymous kids started a small fire on the sidewalk 100 feet away. And the feds (a) didn’t put the fire out, and (b) gassed everyone, including (c) the mayor, which (d) lead to national publicity, which (e) increases support for the protest movement and forces the state to change.

Peaceful protesters are critical. But their biggest impact is being photographed and filmed while being attacked by an overzealous state that was provoked by non-violent protesters.

Be a peaceful protester, but let the kids tearing down the fence do their thing. Because together, you change the world.”


Leave a Reply