Protesting protesting

Dianne St. Jean
Protesting protesting

It seems that nearly every day, or for sure every week, when you look at the news there’s someone protesting something somewhere.

It appears that we are in a constant flow of protests.

Protesting in itself is not wrong – it’s a democratic right that should be exercised; but I also think that the method is being overused and in some cases has resorted to bully tactics. That kind of protesting transcends beyond the democratic spirit and can actually turn against it through force. Then, no longer does majority or democracy rule, but rather the desires, or should I say, agendas, of what is usually a loud but forceful minority.

It’s not like that hasn’t happened in the past. Many positive changes started with individuals protesting, usually against some form of injustice or poverty. 

If a society never protested, we’d still likely have child labour (and some countries still do), women and others considered to be  ‘inferior’ would have little to no rights (and in some countries, this still exits), so protesting has its benefits.

But let’s also remember from history that not all protests lead to paths of freedom and equality, or even goodness.

The Bolshevik Revolution began with good intentions, but ultimately led to the formation of communist Russia, who then justified the swallowing up of other nations around it to form the Soviet Union.

Certainly in the beginning some in the movement thought it would be wonderful if everyone had equal access to things such as food and shelter, but it quickly became something else. In order to ‘share the wealth’, those with more had properties and rights taken from them by force. And if they protested, they were jailed, or worse.

Perhaps you have not heard of the Holodomor, especially if you do not have any Ukrainian background, but those who do commemorate its horrors every year. In the 1930s Stalin took literally every scrap of food and seed from what was then Soviet-controlled Ukraine which had previously been known as Europe’s breadbasket, as a way of removing their control over food production and to force them to submit to their system. This man-made famine resulted in the deaths of, not thousands, but millions of Ukrainians in a matter of a year.

These may seem like extreme examples, but it’s a cautionary note to the negative use of protesting.

A disturbing trend that seems to be happening with protests these days is that, if you don’t agree with my side, or cave in to my demands, you are going to be bullied, ostracized (especially on social media) or in some form made to pay for not agreeing. When protesting transcends into violence to fulfill its purpose, the cause is no longer righteous.

Mahatma Gandhi said that non-violence takes more courage than violence. In other words, showing self-restraint in the face of opposition or disagreement demonstrates more self-restraint and therefore strength than pounding out someone’s lights or trying to mar their reputation because they disagree with you. And if you think that just talking someone down or defaming them is not violence, take a look at the definition in the dictionary: “An unpleasant or destructive force; wildness; frenziedness; turbulence…” In other words, violence is not always physical.

Living in a democratic society means, or should mean, that everyone shares their viewpoint or opinion without harm, but when we begin to use our democratic right of protest to bully others into our way of thinking or to get what we want, that is no longer democracy, it’s just a more passive form of violence.