“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
-John F. Kennedy
This quote is deep, especially with what we are starting to see take shape in our country. The meaning is clear, if you take away the rights of the people to protest against the injustices they see, you only enable them to react more violently in future matters.
These words could not be any more important in our current time. It has been over 50 years since the civil rights protests started and we seem to be back at that same junction. We are watching a ruling class treat people of color with less respect than animals. The rights of minorities are being denied or simply stripped away from them because the older, white rich males deem it so. Now, we are watching the government decide to start enacting laws that will prohibit our rights to protest.
Harsh Penalties For Protestors
Alan Moore once wrote “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” If you have ever seen the movie, V for Vendetta, then you are familiar with that quote. It’s not that far from what Abraham Lincoln’s most famed quote, “…that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth…” Both of the quotes echo a similar sentiment in that the government is made for the people and decided upon by the people, it is after all why we vote.
How is this important today, you might ask?
This week we have sat by as Republican legislators in both Oklahoma and Iowa passed bills granting immunity to drivers who hit and injured protestors with their cars. This in essence has given the people the right to use their car as a weapon against protestors they do not agree with.
It doesn’t stop there…
In Indiana, there is a proposal that would bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from being able to hold state employment. Minnesota isn’t far behind with their bill that would prohibit those convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits, or housing assistance. What it does not say is what constitutes unlawful assembly or protesting and who gets to police or decide it
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation this week that added strength to existing laws governing public disorder and also added a new harsher lever of infraction. He was quoted as saying it’s “the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
All of this legislation comes on the heels of all of the Black Lives Matters protests and is meant as a means of punishing those who try to speak out against wrongdoings committed by police and our government.
Why Protesting Matters
The First Amendment of our Constitution says that Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble and to petitions the Government for a redress of grievances.
These laws we are witnessing being passed or have passed fly in the face of those very words.
Sure, there were plenty of people who have said that the BLM protests were not peaceful, that they were an excuse for people to riot and loot as they saw fit. Even if that were half true, have we stopped to consider why there was such a violent response. I started this article with a quote that says if peaceful revolution isn’t possible then we force people to become violent.
We are seeing the beginnings of legislation that will, in fact, prevent us from peaceful protests. All it will take is for a large crowd with angry voices to gather around a common cause and those cities and states can now say they are violent and react in force. Sure, you can say they did it before but now it has become legal.
This should be our wake-up call. Our government now fullies knows it has control over us and is pushing for total control. We have given them the ability to track us with our smartphones, given away our freedoms with bills like the Patriot Act, and now losing our right to protest. Those who can sit there and say it’s fine because this addresses those that are problems are the same ones who are not witnesses to their civil liberties and basic being stripped away from them.
Rise, Rebel, Resist
Many of the advances in human rights issues in this country have come on the hills of protests by the people, granted most of them are still a work in progress. If it weren’t for protests women would have the right to vote, segregation would still be nationwide, and the gay rights movements never would have started. Our right to assemble and protest is a means by which we can affect change. This should do to be something that a group of people can simply outlaw. Nor should we allow them to do so.
Being able to protest has many positive effects. When we gather to protest, people realize that they are not alone. It gives us a chance to realize the number of people who also suffer in similar fashions. It also makes those in power realize that we are not isolated individuals. Protesting is a means of starting a debate about issues that need to be changed. It shows those in power that we cannot be ignored. In a democracy, protests provided a needed voice for minority groups. It is the only way to ensure that the voting masses do not make rules that only support those majorities.
With these bills in place, protests like Stonewall would have resulted in all parties being arrested or in some instances killed. We may never have had the start of the LGBTQ revolution. If Dr. King was arrested in Selma, Alabama, or worse, we would not have had the Civil Rights Movements. We lost the ability for minority populations to speak out against the processes that keep us down. Want to see the importance of protests, check out my articles Rise! Rebel! Resist!, and Small Step Activism.
As these bills pass, you will hear varying rhetoric that speaks to how violent protests can be and will even use recent events as examples. Here are some facts.
- The majority of the BLM protests were peaceful. 96% involved no property damage or police injuries. Those that did were incited by police and counter-protestors
- Lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 8a anti-protest bills since January. Twice as many as any other time in history. They have been brought to vote as anti-riot bills to gain better support.
- State lawmakers seek to punish local governments if they do not support their bills. If the local government seeks to defund their police department, they lose state support.
Don’t Fear The Government
Once again we seem to be at a pivotal point in history. Another time in which our voices cannot be silenced. Yet another event where those that are being oppressed must rise up and show we will not continue down this path we have been struggling against. It is our chance to use our voice and let governments know we will not continue to be held down.
We need to come together to work on overturning this legislation and remove those who cannot see that this is a country for the people and by the people.