Violent Protest is Not the Answer

Where are we and what are we doing?

I awoke to this question, inchoate, unformed, and after a brief moment of reflection, elucidated in the early morning fog of my dream world. I was stuck in a recurring dream I have been having. In last night’s version, I was traveling from one side of our country to the next, in search of my children. I was waiting by the ocean side for them to return to me. Fear engulfed me, and pain. Where were my children?

I spotted them, and the three of them ran towards me. My daughter cleaved to me. I held her to my breast and whispered, “I will protect you, I will keep you safe.”

“But why did you let me go?” Her blue-grey eyes reached into my own.

“I didn’t, I wouldn’t, but you had to go, you had to see, so I let you, and ever since you left, I’ve been looking for you, I’ve been following you everywhere, waiting, waiting . . .” I brushed the hair out of her eyes and added, “I always knew you’d return, and you did, and I was never gone.”

I woke up then. It was five-something, and I didn’t want to leave the lumpy, warm sheets, so I just lay there. I know why I keep having variations of the same theme in the space where my subconscious creates its own world. My world is rooted in love, and my children reside at these roots. Together, we’ve gotten where we need to go, but my mind remains unwilling to let go of its fears. That’s okay, I realize. As one of my friends said this morning in regards to opposition to Donald Trump:

What scares me the most is that I’ve been told I have no right to be afraid. That our president says that if a man has money or power, it’s okay to violate me…and that I’m told that is not supposed to scare me . . . and I’m just supposed to suck that up. That mentality is what scares me. Being told I have no right to fear when the leader of the free world has put his seal of approval on misogyny. That’s the difference. It’s never been okay, and no one has ever done much about it, but now the president says it’s okay. So if it was never okay before to be sexist, racist, violent, etc., what is it going to be like now that we’ve been given the go ahead to hate? That’s what scares me as a woman. So please, stop with this cut and paste thing I’ve been seeing for days all over the internet saying we have no right to be scared . . . At least we have the courage to stand up for ourselves, voice our fears out loud, and say NO, THIS IS NOT OKAY. –Summer Barnes Darvischi

This was the first thing I read this morning. My mind at this very moment was a fertile field for contemplating the state of affairs in America. I found myself thinking about FDR’s famous saying: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But FDR was exhorting us to act with courage despite our fears—he wasn’t telling us we did not have the right to feel fear.

Right now, we are sixteen years into the Twenty-First Century. Over the past one hundred years, we’ve experienced war and famine, revolution and reform. We’ve seen countries rise and fall; here in America, we’ve watched Presidents come and go. Women and minorities have experienced advances in their legal and social status . . . and yet racism and sexism still exist. The specter of violence hangs over all of us, and it doesn’t come from those who voted for Trump alone. Protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities turned violent since last week’s election. Call it rioting, call it anarchy . . . no matter. Looting, burning, and breaking is violent, and violence, like hatred, begets more violence.

Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trumpís victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)
Multiple fires are lit in dumpsters and trash cans during protests in Oakland, Calif., late Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. President-elect Donald Trump’s victory set off multiple protests. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group via AP)

I see the violence.

I for one acknowledge that it has happened, and I denounce it. Violence is never the right answer. Rioting is not an acceptable means to achieve social change. I always find myself quoting this, and then I stop and begin to think it through. Perhaps it’s my legal background that causes me to ask myself, at what point is rebellion justified? At what point could violence be justified in pursuit of said rebellion? Because I respect Thomas Jefferson so much, I often come back to his writings on the matter, and he has often been misquoted as saying that rebellion or revolution should occur every generation. I think it’s worth reading the full quotation, which I am providing in a footnote.[1]

There’s a lot in this quote, but to summarize, Jefferson in 1787 is arguing with a proposed provision in the Constitution. Drafted as a knee-jerk reaction to Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts, this clause would have limited the people’s right to rebel. Jefferson argued that the rebellion occurred due to ignorance rather than wickedness. He also stated that it was worse for the people to remain quiet even when they were acting under misconceptions, for remaining quiet results in lethargy, which is the “forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

Jefferson did not advocate anarchy; indeed, Shay’s Rebellion was conducted in an orderly manner and it was suppressed by state militias. Jefferson advocated pardoning those who had rebelled. He did not support the rebellion; indeed, he recognized that rebellion, when it went astray, was like tyranny in that it led to the destruction of individual rights.

Shay’s Rebellion is a far cry from rioting in the streets, and rioting solves nothing. Riots are disorganized and destructive, and they cannot lead to peaceful overthrow of even a tyrannical government. At this point, no one is advocating overthrow of the government, peaceful or otherwise.

So what are we doing, when we protest? We need to ask ourselves, just as I did this morning when I awoke from my nightmare, “Where are we? And where are we going?” To riot against the sexist and misogynistic President Elect may somehow seem like a good idea to some people, who are, as Jefferson would have said, motivated by ignorance rather than wickedness. But rioting is anarchy, and it leads nowhere good.

Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale
Official Portrait by Rembrandt Peale

I was asked this morning to denounce these riots by those who stand with me in opposing President-Elect Trump’s policies. I can do so. Indeed, I’m HAPPY to denounce rioting. I’m HAPPY to pronounce and follow a creed in which no one has the right to violate anyone else’s rights. Indeed, that’s exactly what peaceful protestors like me are fighting for: to live in an America where the government is here to secure the rights of ALL humans, of ALL Americans.

What we are asking as champions of human freedom and human liberty, nay, demanding, is that Trump and his supporters hew to the same course. We are concerned, and we have a right to be concerned, because it seems as if white supremacists have been emboldened by this election. We would like for Trump to denounce racism and sexism, and we would like for all acts of lawless and racist aggression to end. We don’t support it under any circumstances.

Where are we going? I am not sure. But I know where I’m going. In search of the best future I can secure for my children.

That’s where I’m going.


[1] “I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you to place them where due. It will be yet three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it: and very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a Chief magistrate eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion.[1] The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusets: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in god this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.” – Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, Paris, 13 Nov. 1787[2]