Protest of Injustice Does Not Conform To Time, Place, Nor Method
In 1962, Students for a Democratic Society said in the Port Huron Statement: “Institutions and practices which stifle dissent should be abolished, and the promotion of peaceful dissent should be actively promoted.” This still holds true today.
The right of free assembly is found in the Bill of Rights and deserves unceasing protection. Ongoing street protests are exactly what we need right now. We’ve grown too comfortable in accepting what we’ve been given post civil rights and not demanding more.
Our legal and political orders don’t really differ fundamentally from the Civil Rights era, when blacks had no choice but to take to the streets. Howard Husock notes how that movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and others faced a government that was neither representative nor, under the voting rules of the time, potentially representative. It was an era of true legal disenfranchisement. Large numbers of Americans were legal outsiders, lacking access to legitimate means for redressing their deep moral grievances. They faced an unrepresentative political order and had every reason to conclude that “the system” must be pressured to change—or be replaced. They were right, in many cases, to presume bad faith on the part of public officials who could only be influenced by public pressure, fear of embarrassment, or even the threat of civil disobedience. The question is what’s changed?
Things are indeed not much different today nor should we expect them to be as it’s only been roughly 50 years of “freedom” after 350 years of slavery and apartheid. The legal and social “system” that the Civil Rights movement attacked has not been completely toppled. Blacks are still legally prevented from voting today in many states.
The good news is that hasn’t stopped progress. In 2012, blacks voted at a higher rate than whites. In 1963, only 1,400 blacks held elected office nationwide; today, more than 10,000 do. Nationwide, there are more than 58,000 black police officers, slightly less as a proportion of all police than the percentage of blacks in the overall population.
We need a citizenry ready and willing to engage with government. What should the protocol for police encounters with suspected criminals be? How best can government serve the poor? These are matters that require ongoing engagement, especially at the local level which includes protest anytime at any place.
Protests are the only method in which collectively, people can involve themselves directly and democratically to pressure change on institutions which allow and enforce disparities and injustice. Per 100,000 white men there is an average of 465 incarcerated, per 100,000 black men there is an average of 2724 incarcerated. In order to reform destructive policy there has to be civil resistance to the status quo. Otherwise, to expect these issues to correct themselves if we protest “at the right and proper time” means these issues are subordinated instead of elevated which means prolonging the implementation of solutions instead of solving the problems immediately.