Sometimes it pays to take a step back so that we can look at situations rationally. 2020 will go down as perhaps the most tumultuous year in U.S. History. At least it is the most eventful year since the Civil War began in 1861. There are certainly contenders. 1929 immediately comes to mind as it kicked off the Great Depression. 1968 was another big year that contained assassinations and riots.
These years all had one thing in common: they contained a ton of change that threatened the status quo in ways not imagined before that year came along. 2020 has brought both a once in a century pandemic in the backdrop of huge social change. However, much like 1968 and 1929, the seeds for that change had been laid in the ground far before then.
One doesn’t protest out of thin air. There is an established order to these things even if it isn’t necessarily written down. First, there either has to be a pattern of small events or one giant cataclysmic event that shakes people and riles them up. Before they go to the streets, they attempt to resolve the conflict peaceably. Maybe that is done in an organized way and maybe it isn’t. Protesting only occurs when the affected group is not being heard.
That’s the key right there. They aren’t being heard. When someone whispers and they aren’t heard then they speak in regular tones. When they speak in a normal volume and they aren’t heard then they start screaming. If they aren’t heard then they need to try to do something to shake the people in power into hearing them.
One of the common refrains I hear on a daily basis complains about why athletes need to kneel during the anthem, boycott games, or wear messages on their uniforms. Why can’t they protest during their own time? You see, if they do that then I don’t have to pay attention to it. Wouldn’t everyone be happier if they just respected the flag, us, and everyone else by speaking their piece away from the field or court where I can tune them out?
The same is true for Hollywood and any other celebrity. Why do I have to hear about it during the Oscars or the Emmys? Why do we have to invade the Grammy’s with some political mumbo jumbo? The answer is easy enough in both cases. Protests are supposed to inconvenience you. They are supposed to make you and me uncomfortable. If we become uncomfortable then we have to deal with the issue the group is protesting about.
This of course brings us to the place where we are now. Now that people are protesting what can we do now to bring peace back? This is where the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently. There was positive peace and negative peace. If you forced disaffected groups to remain quiet through force you would be creating negative peace. Yes, they would be quiet just as long as you forced them to. As every good psychologist would tell you, when you take pain and stuff it down deep inside it ends up oozing out in some other way. That way is never healthy and leads to other issues that could be even more dangerous to your mental or physical health.
The federal government can send out its storm troopers to different communities and can force people to return to their homes. They can stifle the voices of the masses and make everything seem normal. They have the power to do all of this. Yet, the issues that are creating the desire to protest would still remain. In fact, in this particular case it would multiply since unequal justice is the very reasons for the protests.
Hate only breeds more hate. Violence only breeds more violence. Death and destruction only bring more death and destruction. Intolerance and bigotry bring more intolerance and more bigotry. You get the idea. You don’t ever have to give those protesting everything they want. In fact, you don’t have to give them anything they want. However, they won’t stop until they feel heard.
Denying the existence of a problem won’t satisfy the crowd. Certainly, having Attorney General William Barr tell us that sometimes African Americans need to be treated differently and that this wasn’t systemic racism wasn’t the best way to address it either. Having two pastors asked whether they think there is systemic racism and then having the president answer for them is not the best way to address this. Having the president compare a policeman shooting someone seven times in the back to a guy missing a three foot putt is probably not the best way either.
Now, certainly protesters have some responsibilities of their own. They have to protest within the law as much as they possibly can. Anyone who destroys property or hurts innocent bystanders is destroying their credibility. However, it is important to point out that there are plenty of people that are doing this for them to create the illusion that the protesters are doing this. Yet, this isn’t their most important responsibility.
The NBA and MLB ran into this early on in their process. How do we measure success? What are our specific aims? Do we want to see new laws passed to combat unequal justice? What do these laws need to look like? Are we looking for specific prosecutions of specific police from specific incidents? When you define your terms precisely then you can give those in authority the clarity of what they need to say yes or no to. This provides the foundation for negotiation. Maybe you don’t get 100 percent of what you came for, but you can get some.
As for the rest of us, it’s important to remember that protesting is not something people do in their own place on their own time. It’s not something we can isolate to channel 276 on DirecTV or 8-4 on the antenna. They aren’t going to siphon off a small area of town where no one goes just so those people can congregate and shout to no one. It is meant to make us uncomfortable. It is meant to be jarring and shocking. It is meant to make us think a little longer on these issues. Some of us might even have to rethink everything we thought about a particular issue. It doesn’t mean we have to change our minds. I can reassess everything I thought and come to the exact same conclusion. A good protest will make us be honest with ourselves about how we feel about the issue. It will do it while putting no one in any real physical danger. Mental danger? Psychological danger? We make no promises.