Most people have never stood in public for their beliefs, especially positive beliefs that make the world a better place, beliefs that have not yet reached majority status. And it’s not just because government is big and powerful and police are potential loose cannons. It’s also because … demonstrating is embarrassing!
Standing out there with the eyes of the world—or of your neighbors—on you, that would make most feel too embarrassed or afraid. Just like most people are not actors, not great public speakers, and not at ease being interviewed. Yet rather than admit that personality trait, they judge protestors harshly. Uncomfortable with standing up, they put others down. Further, those unable to protest are hardly a jury of peers of those who are willing to demonstrate in public—never mind the makeup of race.
Protesting gets tricky. When protesting in public against, say, racism, in a way it’s like saying the public is racist. It stakes out the moral high ground and by comparison implies others are lacking. That’d be self-righteous, despite others not protesting may have spent a lifetime working to heal the wounds of racism.
Some of us enjoy being in the spotlight, and positively glow when feeling self-righteous. They have an advantage when it comes to public protest. Those who lack those traits need not get upset but rather bear in mind it’s all for a good cause. Taking a stand does raise society’s moral bar.
Some who’re bothered by protestors ignore the issue that drove people into the streets—currently, racist police. Instead, they complain about paying police overtime, or about the vandalism committed by a tiny fraction of demonstrators. That, not the issue, become the media’s focus.
Something an experienced activist knows, those vandals are not always protestors. Some of those young adult males are there for the thrill of mayhem. Other provocateurs have been paid by the government (talk about paying agents overtime!)
Another way protests get tricky is that they open the floodgates for counter-protests. Many demonstrators opposed to reform or change are not adverse to violence. And they, unlike peaceful protestors, have the police on their side. Like the cop who cracked open the skull of that 80+ year old guy, and all his buddies ran past the dying man.
When push comes to shove, police—who all through history and all over the world sided with oppressors—do not maintain law and order. They worsen disorder. This is how government does not stop crime but commits crime.
Another way protest undermines its aims is by providing its opponents with an excuse to worsen oppression, rather than reduce it. Many anti-reformers predict civil war and long to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. For them, the time is ripe. These days, America is incipient fascist, as their president, and the police problem, and the anti-trade rhetoric indicates. It can get worse.
During the FDR Administration, big business proposed a coup that was aborted by General Smedley Butler going public. Would today’s military be like today’s police and prop up the status quo? Most young adults in the military are hardly sophisticated about politics. In their view, every issue is either black or white. Those soldiers who suffer after leaving the military, many were already messed up before entering the military. Indeed, they said they thought the regimental training would straighten them out. If ordered to kill Americans, would they obey?
It need not get that bad. It can become better. By now, even many well-meaning people are sort of raced out. The time has come to use political jujitsu. Instead of confront an attack head on, turn the momentum of society in the direction you want it to go.
During this shutdown, society’s momentum is toward an extra income. Fortuitously, leader MLK also called for an extra income. He said nothing changes until we (big we, all of us) have economic justice. In his Letter From Jail, MLK cites Henry George in explaining the feasibility of sharing society’s surplus. I’ve yet to meet anyone else, of any group or category, who takes MLK seriously on this point. Yet he’s right. So I stay focused on that, on a Citizens Dividend.
Once winning, imagine a large black middle class and a small number of poor blacks. Then most acts of racism wither away. That’s what economic history shows is the welcome fate of other minorities.
Seems humans must try everything else until they finally try what works. Let's balance the pleasure of accusation with the pain, the work, of understanding and articulating economic justice for all and how to win it. Define anti-racism not merely as being against racism. Define it as succeeding in eliminating racism. That’s anti-racism at the deepest, most pragmatic level.
May TV viewers do more than vote, more than write a letter, but actually take a stand in public for something, for something good, for an equitable sharing of society’s surplus. That’d make protest by others seem a lot less worrisome. And make the world a more prosperous and rational place.
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JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to Progress.org. A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at Progress.org.