Violent protest or peaceful protest? This question has been challenged for centuries, and still, people argue and disagree over the most effective way to protest. The recent black lives matter protests around the world following the death of George Floyd highlighted the tension between two sides of protestors. As one side destroyed all objects in their path, the other stood still, even trying to stop the other side from looting communities. People who were meant to be coming together to fight for change ended up fighting with each other. So, which strategy is more effective?
Violent protests consistently fail to achieve long-term change. Although they may create minor changes due to a local authority’s need to protect the safety of the community, once the initial ‘hype’ of a movement diminishes, there is no difference. What has the looting of cities achieved in America? Absolutely nothing other than destroying small businesses which are vital to many towns, causing injury and death to many people including African Americans and in some places discrediting the movement as a way to make money.
Violence is fundamentally divisive. Violence immediately places two sides against each other. It creates a further division that is counter-productive to the goal of the movement. If we seek a community, state or nation which strives for equality between all people, that must involve people coming together not apart.
“If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.” Not only do violent protests achieve minimal change, but they can also even cause further consequences in the future. In South Africa, the African National Congress who fought to destroy apartheid took a path of violence and armed struggle. However, the ANC failed to grasp or understand the full consequences of justifying the use of violence to achieve a noble end. The ANC’s initial policy of violence could never be broken as it provided generations that followed the justification to use whatever means necessary to achieve their “just ends”. The movement was established on the hatred central to the use of violence. That is still present within South Africa today.
My perspective on the impact of violent protest is summarised by short-term and long-term implications. Initially, violence can cause communities to create radical laws to protect communities and prosecute offenders, however; it creates no lasting change on the causes of the inequality. In the future, these violent protests can create a dangerous precedent where others believe violence is an appropriate option, and these movements can be built on violence which further divides people, contrary to the movement.
Non-violent protests can be immensely powerful and create not only short-term but also lasting change that attacks the causes of the struggle. The oppression of African Americans delves much deeper than police brutality, although that is a genuine concern. These communities have been battling for decades due to poor education, minimal employment opportunities and a lack of adequate services. Non-violent protest conveys emotions much greater than rage and anger. It conveys pain, oppression and a sense of hopelessness. Below is one of my favourite protest images I’ve seen over the past few weeks. Imagine if the millions of people who have protested over the past few weeks did this. Everyone laid on the ground. The power of those images could be influential to the success of the movement.
Non-violent protest can also leverage immense economic and political pressure because a government relies on its citizens for labor and expertise. Targeted and consistent noncooperation can be devastating and force governments to create legislative change. This is important because violence by protestors can undermine public support and give politicians excuse for neglect.
We must learn from the past. We cannot forget the countless instances of violence around the world and what the result has been. The black lives matter movement must make a clear decision moving forward. Do they promote a message of violence and resistance, or will they consistently stand courageously for change? Whatever answer they choose will transform our world for decades to come. A precedent of violence which fuels rage and division or a group of hopeless people joining together to find hope, a hope formed in equality that transcends the colour of someone’s skin.
The distinction between violent and non-violent action is that the former is exclusively bent upon the destruction of the old, and the latter is chiefly concerned with the establishment of something new.
I have wanted to write this article for many weeks, but I did not feel as if I knew enough. Over the past 3 weeks, I have been reading, listening, and watching the protests take place in America and around the world. I have grappled with differing perspectives and now have reached a position am comfortable with. However, my learning does not and will not ever stop in this area. I will continue to listen, and my thoughts may well change over time. The question of violence or peace is paramount to the future of this movement, the decision will change the future. What do you think? Violent protest or peaceful protest?