Your Protest Should Inconvenience People

I know that just reading the title of this is going to be enough for some people to get angry over.  Try and read the whole thing before you decide that the thing to do is leave an angry comment.

Protesting is as old a tradition as America has.  We’ve been protesting since before we even became a nation, and there’s no chance that we’ll stop in the near future.  By now you all know the format of these articles.  So our first question is:

Why do people protest?

Now that’s an excellent question.  People can protest for a number of reasons, but it all boils down to this:  Something is happening that people don’t like, and they want to ensure that their voices are heard.

Why don’t they just call their Representatives?

That’s a great idea, but your question assumes that people aren’t doing that as well.  And they are!  In the wake of the inauguration of the 45th president of the US and the policy decisions he’s been making people have been calling their representatives so much that voice mails got filled to capacity.  Even emails started bouncing back as mailboxes also got filled to capacity.  That’s not even taking into account the Congressional Representatives that turned off their phones.  So what do you do when your Representative isn’t taking your calls?  Well, they’re supposed to turn up for Town Hall meetings to talk directly with their constituents concerning issues that affect them.  Except a majority of Republican Representatives didn’t show up for those meetings.  

So what can people do when their Representatives are actively avoiding them?

They can take to the streets and guarantee that their voices are heard.  They can, say it with me, protest!

But what are they protesting about?  They live in the greatest country in the world!

Let’s leave the statistics aside on how exactly America is #1.  America may be a great place to live for a lot of people.  It is not an ideal place to live if you’re a Person of Color interacting with the police.  It’s not if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.  It’s not if you’re Muslim.  It’s not if you’re an immigrant.

So what are these people protesting?  They’re protesting massive amounts of systemic, societal injustice that is killing members of our community.  They’re protesting the dehumanization of PoC and LGBTQ people by the media and by many politicians.  They’re protesting a president who has mocked woman, immigrants, and various other groups.  They’re protesting a world that only views certain people as people.  They’re protesting a nation that makes claims at equality and that all people are created equal, and then fails to live up to that.  They’re angry and they have a right to be.  When Congress turns off its phones, the only recourse left to be heard is to march.

Why can’t they just protest like MLK Jr.?  

They are.  All these folk going out into the streets, marching, carrying signs, blocking traffic, disrupting your daily lives.  Even the ones breaking windows.  They are protesting just the way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted them to.

No way!  MLK would never have blocked traffic or disrupted people’s lives.  He believed in non-violence.

Read this.

I’m going to bullet point it here too.

  • The Civil Rights movement caused massive economic disruption.
  • It was seen by many as ‘extremism’
  • Most people like Rosa Parks, who we celebrate today, were hated in their time
  • The average American hated the Civil Rights Movement and insisted it would do more harm than good.
  • The federal government put 19,000 troops on standby for the March on Washington.  It terrified them.

When Dr. King led the Selma March they took up entire roads.  They filled the entire width of the Edmund Peetus Bridge in Selma.  They blocked the whole road.

So yeah, Dr. King encouraged his followers to be non-violent.  He also never denounced a single riot done in the name of Civil Rights.

Wait, what?

Yeah.  On March 14, 1968, at Grosse Point High School Dr. King gave a speech in which he called riots “the voice of the unheard”.  Dr. King would never have used violent measures himself, but he understood that when you’re fighting for your rights, and your right to live as equals in a society that doesn’t see you as people, sometimes you have to make a statement they cannot ignore.  In a capitalist society such as ours, a good hit to the wallet is always felt.  That’s why the Montgomery Bus Boycott was so successful, that’s why Lunch Counter Sit-ins worked.  Dr. King preached civil disobedience.  When the law is unjust or immoral or unethical, break the law.  Legal and ethical are not the same thing.

But it’s Unamerican to break people’s property in protest.

That’s the most American thing ever!  In 1773, in protest of British tea taxes, colonists dumped 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.  They caused nearly $2 million of damage.  We started this country by making an economic statement of protest.

Ok, but blocking traffic is dangerous.  What if emergency services need to get through?

I could write a lot about that, but honestly, it’s already been done.  Emergency crews are always let through when protestors are aware that there is an emergency crew that needs to be let through.  These people are out there marching so that everyone can live a free and equal life.  Would they really be the type of people to block emergency vehicles?

People block traffic so that you will be inconvenienced.  So that you can’t help but notice.  Too many people don’t see problems until it effects them.  Well, we’re gonna make it affect you.

I’ve covered most of the questions I encounter in this discussion, but all these questions are smokescreens.  They’re distractions from the real question.

Why can’t these people just stay out of my way and protest quietly over in the corner?

Because then you’d have no reason to listen.

These people are out there protesting a system that is KILLING THEIR NEIGHBORS.  They are going to make damn sure that you hear us.  If that involves blocking roads.  We’re gonna do it.  If that involves Punching Nazis, we’re gonna do it.  If that involves being a nuisance and making your life more difficult, we’re gonna do that.

But even if we did protest in a way that didn’t inconvenience anyone, that didn’t block traffic or break anything, PEOPLE WOULD STILL COMPLAIN.

Colin Kaepernick protested by sitting during the National Anthem at an NFL game he was playing in.  So obviously he was seen on camera, on National Television doing this.  Who was hurt by that?  Whose life was made more difficult?  What was broken?  Nothing.  But the backlash was immense.

I’m going to finish this up by paraphrasing a quote from William Lloyd Garrison, and know that whatever criticism you have of protestors these days, this will be my response.

We are in earnest — We will not equivocate — We will not excuse — We will not retreat a single inch — AND WE WILL BE HEARD.



Listen Kids, Some Parts of Your Culture Suck

Sometimes people say certain words to me.  These words should not be said because they will make me angry.  Some of these words include:

The movie was better
I just don’t like dogs
Men’s Rights Activists have a legitimate case to make

But two of the worst sentences you can say are:

Well John, that’s just their culture.  You have to respect that.

No, I don’t.

Why do people keep insisting that we have to respect all aspects of someone else’s culture?  When did the liberal world get such a hard on for cultural relativism?

What’s cultural relativism?

So, cultural relativism is the idea that a person’s beliefs and activities should be understood based on the person’s own culture.  We shouldn’t judge other cultures for having ideas that are different than ours.  It was first put forward as an idea by anthropologist Franz Boas and was in direct conflict with the idea of ethnocentrism.  Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging the actions or values of another culture based on the values that your own culture has.

Well, ethnocentrism sounds like a bad thing.

Hey, it is.  Or it can be.  We’re always going to judge things based on our own views of right and wrong.  Cultural relativism goes right along with the idea of moral relativism.  Moral relativism is the idea that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.

This can become a huge problem as we become unable to judge or condemn problematic aspects of another culture because, say it with me, cultural relativism doesn’t let us.   Because it insists that you can only judge the morality of a culture from inside that culture’s own perspective. There are many examples of problematic aspects of culture.

In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive a car*.  There’s no specific law which bans them from driving, but deeply held religious beliefs don’t allow it and many Saudi clerics argue that female drivers undermine social values.  

*Edit: As of September 27, 2017 this is no longer the case and Saudi Arabia has lifted its long standing ban on female drivers.  This has in no way ended Saudi Arabia’s abuse of the rights of women as they are still need the permission of a man to:

  • Apply for a passport
  • Travel abroad
  • Get married
  • Open a bank account
  • Start certain businesses
  • Get elective surgery
  • Leave prison

In many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) happens on a regular basis.  This includes such procedures as removing the clitoris from girl aged infancy to 15 years.  There are no potential health benefits and lifelong harm that comes from all FGM procedures.

Many Middle Eastern communities still practice stonings.  Muslim women who are accused of adultery are stoned to death for their punishment.  In case you can’t figure out the definition of stoning, it involves having rocks hurled at you until you die.  Such events are especially prevalent in fundamentalist Islamic nations, like Syria under ISIS.

Turkey actively denies the Armenian Genocide and has a law on the books (called Penal Code 301) that makes it illegal to embarrass Turkey.  This law is most often cited in cases where Turkish citizens or Turkish-Armenian citizens call upon Turkey to recognize the Armenian Genocide.  Hrant Dink was a Turkish-Armenian journalist who was arrested multiple times under Code 301 and was eventually assassinated by a Turkish nationalist.

Turkey also allows, in some cases at least, honor killings.  These are murders committed for the purpose of restoring a family’s honor.  One case, involving a murder in Germany in 2005 recently concluded.

And there are dozens of other examples that I could list if I wanted to go more into this.  Many of those unfortunate cultural practices even happen in the US.  (anti-Vaxxers, the alt-right, police murders of PoC, tax exempt churches, most of the GOPs policies)

Wow.  Those all sounds like awful things.

They are!  Cultural relativism can be used to cover up human rights abuses and to hide people from the consequences of crimes.  All because “it’s allowed in their culture”.  So here’s a quick study guide for you kids.

Does any aspect of your culture call for the death of another group?

Does any aspect of your culture treat another group as a lesser person for any reason at all?

Does any aspect of your culture discriminate against anyone in any way at all?

I am all for cultural differences.  They make the world a richer and broader place.  However, some aspects of cultures are just plain wrong and they should never be entertained.  I’m looking at you, Southern States with Confederate War Memorials.  I’m looking at you, “Heritage Not Hate” proponents.  I’m looking at you, the Alt-Right.

Well John, it sounds like you want to just push your own cultural values on other people.  That’s imperialistic.

Wow, I don’t want to be mean, but just please stop talking.

So, you’re partially correct, I do want to take some key aspects of my own values and enforce them around the world.  Just one part though.  All people are people who deserve equal treatment and consideration under the law.  As long as your cultural practices don’t get in the way of that simple fact, I don’t really care what you do.  Do you want to go to Church on Sunday?  Fine.  Do you want to abstain from eating certain foods?  Fine.  Do you want to pray five times a day?  Fine.

There’s nothing wrong with those cultural practices.  There’s nothing wrong with like… 90% of all cultures.  I don’t expect everyone to live a life like I do.  I don’t expect everyone to share my values and to believe what I believe.  I do expect you to treat every single living person with dignity and respect and to accord them all rights and privileges that you would want for yourself.  If any part of your culture doesn’t mesh with that idea, then it’s not a valid cultural practice and I will fight it until it dies or I do.  Some parts of your culture just suck.  Police your values.  Police your ideas.  Hold people accountable to an objective morality.  All people are people and deserve equal treatment under the law.