Protest is usually lauded as a tenant of well functioning democracies and forward thinking liberal societies. In actuality, it is demonized at every moment accept when it happens outside democracy.
Let’s look at the American political landscape as an example.
When is protest seen as a positive occurrence? Hell, when is protest seen as anything but an illegal and violent act against the state? Is it when protest is nonviolent? If this were the case, the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 and 2012 would have been seen as legitimate. But that did not happen. Instead, protesters were viewed as incongruent with working societies. They were seen as lazy. Worse still, when they protested, governmental authorities deemed them as ‘impeding the flow of commerce’ which legitimated the use of force to remove protesters from their encampments via military grade mace, militarized transport vehicles, and midnight raids when dump trucks took all the belongings of protesters and carted it away to landfills. All the while, the American public stood by and nodded its collective head at the government’s designation of protesters as homeless people against free trade and commerce.
Perhaps you consider this a bad example.
How about protests against civil rights violations? In this case, we have government both legitimating violence against certain populations as well as perpetrating much of that violence itself. What of these protests?
The water canons and beatings in the street for otherwise peaceful protests shows government then did not stand for protest. The white American public today still largely believes protesters started all of that violence. Even if that were true, which it largely isn’t, the state authorized the violence against blacks long before the first stone was thrown by protesters.
One may argue, well, Martin Luther King Jr. is a shining example of proper political protest.
This only partially accurate.
MKL so encapsulates American democracy and correct use of protest that he has his own federal holiday in remembrance of his Jesus like qualities. See people, this how you protest and get things done. By pointing at this MLK, the government, and by extension, its people, can do three things. It can suggest this sort of protest is legitimate and allowed. It can point to positive outcomes from this heavenly democratic act. And it can claim to learn from its mistakes…a sort of ‘that was then, this is now’ mentality that allows gross misconduct to be swept under the rug with simple recognition of past mistakes.
But MLK was seen as far more violent against the state than commonly understood currently. It is the idealized dream like personification of MLK that Americans gravitate toward now, not the MLK that many demonized then.
MLK was arrested. MLK took part in protests that would today be seen as violent acts against the state and against commerce, which, in the eyes of the state and in the minds of the citizenry, is far more violent against a free market society than physical violence ever could be.
To be considered legitimate protest, one must ask the state for permission to do so. Without permission of when and where and how a protest can take place, the state and, in turn, its citizenry, will call that protest illegitimate, illegal, and violent. However, seeking permission from a governing body to protest against it is ludicrous. Not only because that’s akin to a five year old asking their parents if they can slap them and steal their authority away. But because, even if the protest is allowed, it is so limited in scope and location, that it steals what little power the protest could have, or would have had, away. Likewise, it still allows for government to call that legal protest other things like full of lazy participants or people who just want to disrupt commerce or delegitimate government itself.
There are only two truly legitimate forms of protest in a modern democracy.
Pre-democracy protest and Social Media protest.
Pre-democracy protest is on par with the MLK Effect. It is transformed into a badge of honor, a medal of valor. It is heralded as the embodiment of democracy itself and utilized as a beacon of nationalistic identity and an orb that emits light in the form of patriotic exuberance.
The Boston Tea Party and the entirety of the American Revolution is a prime example. These incident incite mass chest puffing and nationalism and lauded as the very hallmarks that make the United States a great democracy. The Tea Party was a violent act against commerce in a rather literal sense. It was the taking over of vehicle carrying freight to be sold by protesters where all that freight was destroyed in the name of protest. The American Revolution as a whole was a violent protest against the government by the citizenry.
However, both of these are vastly more violent than any protests we witness today in the United States. When political leaders today claim protests impede commerce, they are talking about protesters standing in the streets, impeding traffic, or standing in front of a bank, impeding customers from entering that back, or sitting in a college grassy knoll, impeding…who the fuck knows what.
Not only were these acts far more violent, they happened before the current government was legitimate. The United States government can relish in these protests because these protests are the very social movement that created their legitimacy and power. To allow protest today would mean allowing the very thing designed to destroy it.
The other form of protest that is allowed is Social Media protest.
Of course, this is quite a recent phenomenon. But it must not be ignored.
For one, everyone seems to do it now. The constant changing of profile pictures to rainbow flags, ribbons of every color, black backgrounds, pithy comments on black backgrounds, and claiming to leave Social Media via a lengthy goodbye only to show up again a few weeks later…or sooner.
And second, it’s clear the United States government has not yet extinguished Social Media protest. And why should they?
The extreme vast majority of protesters on Social Media will never go beyond the show of pseudo-solidarity through pictures and sharing of anecdotes and touchy feely rhetoric that, after you’ve unfriended those who don’t agree with you, amounts to moralistic pats on the back and collective hugs where everyone is reaching around to fondle everyone else’s balls. It’s the equivalent of the crazy conspiracy theorists who sit in their parents’ basement and ponder the ways of the world rather than do anything.
It’s the one form of protest every democratic society can get behind. It makes everyone feel better, does absolutely nothing of value toward the end the protester thinks it is, and the democratically elected government can claim forward thinking liberalism by allowing the protester to say horrible things about it in public spaces knowing full well that that protester will never act on their urges because, psychologically, they already have.
We tap our phones like neutered dogs humping a couch cushion. The outcome is worthless, the act is pointless, yet still, at the end of the day, we feel the relief of tension exploding on the Social Media landscape.
On the rare occasion that a small segment of this canine population seeks to step outside the house to seek true protest in attempt at actual political change (note, this change requires a violence against the establishment), then government strikes down with fury. Social Media pups who continue to wear their solidarity on their profile splash page swear off the true protest as childish and taking two steps backward and cannot possibly have the end the true protest seeks.
That is the lie perpetuated by all democratic cultures.
True protests are by their nature violent against the only legitimate authority.
The true protest necessitates impeding commerce, becoming violent in the literal sense, and generally making life hell for the average citizen who is content bitching in a sewing circle while simultaneously claiming the moral high ground and demonizing those who become violent (and by violent I mean pressure against the only legitimate user of force).
Without this violence, protest loses its only strength. By forcing it to exist only in the places, the times, the ways of the establishment’s choosing, and by demonizing those who break that law and order, the establishment maintains its full and unfettered monopoly of the weapons of change, the chains of servitude. While doing all of this, it continues to hide behind law and order, behind liberal nonviolent political discourse that is no less nonviolent than any nonliberal civilization. It can continue to claim the moral high ground, the legitimate authority, the protector of peace and free speech while covering the mouths of those that wish to speak and allowing free speech for those who wish to remain silent, as they are of no concern to the establishment.