As did Thoreau, Gandhi, and the Rev. MLK Jr., I firmly believe in non-violent, civil disobedience to accomplish social and political change. Violent rioting, arson, vandalism, people getting injured or killed don’t accomplish much in the long run. MLK Jr. said “Fill the jails”, advocating a strict tactic of non violence, involving large numbers of protesters sitting passively in the streets, blocking traffic in the process, or blocking entrances to key buildings, thus forcing police to carry their purposely-made limp bodies to paddy wagons and then to jail. Eventually the jails fill and the cops run out of places to house those arrested. And since they’re not resisting, the only charge would probably be trespassing or non compliance with a police order, which eventually will be dismissed. It’s a win-win: the demonstrators get their point across along with gaining the sympathy and support of many in the community at large. And instigators of violence like Donald Trump are disarmed in this process. It would be tough to write a nasty tweet against a few hundred peaceful citizens who’ve just been carried off to jail, literally, for their justified, principled grievances and for trespassing.
With violent protests, as we’re seeing in some cities now, you feed into the hands of people like Trump who use such incidents as red meat for their political supporters. They thrive on riots and employ them to justify the need to keep them in power. Rioting destroys and divides. It opens the door for outside agitators whose only aim is anarchy, chaos, and destruction of property and personnel. Looting and arson also turns the general population against the cause that brought peaceful protesters to the streets.
Great Britain buckled under the non violent actions of Gandhi, leading to independence for India; and U.S. legislators buckled under the non violent actions of Martin Luther King Jr., leading to legislation that eventually led to enhanced rights for minorities, and the election and reelection of an African American to the Presidency.
Just before MLK was assassinated in April, 1968, I went into training for non violent action in preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington D.C. We were taught various tactics, including how to give an impromptu street corner speech, and even how to counter hecklers in the crowd during such a speech. Such trainings could be done now, online, if necessary. to prepare for such non-violent actions. This of course would take organization and leadership which are needed to keep protests out of the hands of more violence-prone demonstrators who can and do turn peaceful actions into violent confrontations. They fill the vacuum of weak leadership and planning. But just like good planning and leadership would dilute the effects of Trump’s incendiary tweets, so too would it weaken the threats from anarchistic rabble-rousers intent on destruction.
So, what do you think? Shall we return to the non violent protest tactics of the 60s? I believe it’s worth a try.