Protests, by their very nature, are violent. From the words being chanted, to the speeches being given, to the emotion of the crowd (think to the last protest you were at, did you feel angry or passionate?), to the very gathering of the people, protests are violent. Regardless of whether or not they partake in physical violence, protests are still violent. This is because their raison d’être is to destroy whatever it is that is being protested, and in turn create something better in its place. This is an inherently violent act.
But just because it is a violent act does not necessarily mean that it is a bad one. Destruction of old systems and ways of being is necessary for new forms of being to take their place. Just as the forest needs to burn in order for new life to grow, so too do the old ideas need to burn so that new ones can take their place.
Not only are they violent because they seek destruction but also because they are so radical and subversive. The systems of power in place are constantly telling us to keep our heads down, to not rock the boat, to accept the status quo as it is. But in protesting it, in protesting capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy, we are reclaiming our power and that is a violent act.
It really frustrates me, then, to see people talk about and glorify Gandhi and Dr. King as if they were these non-violent saints who “fought” for their cause through peace and serenity. That they had this mystical power to win their struggle by turning the other cheek. When, in fact, the Indian Independence movement had many more players then just Gandhi, many of them who used strategies that involved physical violence. Gandhi did not win independence alone and he certainly was moved by anger and passion, just as any activist is. Dr. King was another proponent of non-violent resistance and again, he was not the only player in the Civil Rights movement. Moreover, the Civil Rights movement failed on many counts, not the least of which is that racism still exists.
These two people are remembered by Americans mostly because they are the ones written in the history text books. It is the victors who write the history and the reason that they are in them is because they were not threatening enough to the status quo. One doesn’t read about Malcolm X, who did much to advance the Civil Rights movement, because he was a true threat to the powers that be.
Now, I’m not saying that we should be going around fighting willy-nilly. It is important to be strategic. Resorting to physical violence without resources or momentum is suicide. However, there comes a time when physical violence is the strategic key to victory. Moreover, the powers that be will not, and does not, hesitate to retaliate with violence if they feel that their control is being challenged. This is apparent from the police crackdowns on the Occupy movement and the policing of black and brown, especially male, bodies. In the words of Fredrick Douglass;
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Why, then, would we hesitate in using the most effective strategy to achieve equity?
Let me repeat again; violence is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Like any tool, its goodness is determined by the will of the wielder. If we are using violent resistance to create a truly equitable world, then it is not a bad thing because it is working to end centuries of colonialism, genocide and injustice. If using physical violence is the most effective way to achieve our collective liberation, then we have the moral obligation to do it. Not only to end the suffering the oppressed but also to make right what was their original wrong.
This is all very scary to most people, I know it was for me. And these aren’t things that can’t be done today or even tomorrow. However, we all need to be ready to do what must be done when the time comes.