Alright all you right-wing thugs out there, now that tax day is over, Obama and his pals are saying you are dangerous and that your tax protests are an act of revolution. It is amusing that they’ve never said that with the many riots past and present spread by left-wingers in the US — after all little “right-wing” violence has ever been seen here — but there you have it. It’s all YOU. Not the Animal Rights activists that constantly engage in assault, not the rock throwers of anti-WTO protests, not ACORN and union thugs, and not the Envro Nazis that have engaged in actual terrorism all across the country. YOU are the threat we’ve been waiting for.
But there is an indelicate question inherent in the whole subject of protests, left or right. Just when is actual violence justified? How much violence, what sort of violence, violence directed at who or what? The organization of protest is fraught with questions that are not comfortable to contemplate in polite society, questions that lay unasked just under the surface. Indeed, it should be realized that protests are not polite in the first place. They are all spurred by anger, whether righteously invoked or not, and anger is not a polite emotion.
Of course, for the last eight years, the left crowed about how “patriotic” it was to protest government. In fact, many seemed to imagine that the mere act itself of protesting government indeed made one a patriot. Clearly this is a foolish concept. After all, the true measure of the patriotic nature of a protest is in the character and purpose of that protest, not in the simple fact that a protest was organized. If one were to arrange a protest to urge the nation to become an Islamic theocracy (or a Christian one, for that matter) one clearly would not be engaging in a patriotic protest. But to protest, say, the elimination of the teaching of American history in our schools, well that would be a patriotic protest.
Still, it is especially revealing that America’s ill informed leftists are now tsk tsking the current Tax Day Tea Party protests that are drawing hundreds of thousands of citizens to protest the abuse of government being perpetrated by the Obama administration. Apparently the much ballyhooed idea that protesting government in and of itself is a patriotic endeavor is suddenly out of fashion among the left as they have assumed (or have assumed they have assumed) controlling power in Washington.
And on the heels of that Democrat take over we have seen the frightening abuse of policing powers evinced by Obama’s Department of Homeland Security that has released a so-called threat assessment that seems to assume that every American that holds center right views is dangerous and declaring that nearly half the electorate is prone to “right-wing terrorism.” This sort of fascist pigeon-holing of Obama’s internal political enemies as potential terrorists is exactly the sort of effort that itself creates the very worries among the center right the report claims to be warning about.
It cannot be forgotten, though, that our very nation was founded on protest and not a non-violent one either. There was much destruction of private property, quite a lot of violence, and even many deaths in cities all across the 13 Colonies as American Patriots geared up to separate from the Motherland. Taxmen in several major Colonial cities found themselves attacked by their neighbors and were often physically harmed in those attacks. They had their customs houses, even their private residences, destroyed during the revolt, too. Several times riots occurred during which government troops appeared firing into crowds killing citizens. Some of these protests even occurred in England itself with the same result. Then, of course, there was war. Often that war was internecine and vicious between those living among us.
But we have somewhat of a myth on our hands that guides the initial concept of protests: that non-violent protests always work if the protests are large enough. We often point to the success of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. as proof that non-violence works. The problem with those examples is that even as Gandhi and King were steadfastly sticking with their convictions of non-violence, others on their side were not. Both in Reverend King’s Jim Crow U.S. and Gandhi’s English controlled India violence on both sides of the divide was surrounding them. This is not to say their efforts were a sham, but only to remind everyone that their efforts alone were not the sole factor in success.
And then we have to realize the other part of protests: solutions. There is one reason that governments reverse track on issues that cause mass protests and that one reason is fear. Totalitarian governments deal with that fear by mass arrests, torture and killings. Democratic nations deal with that fear by revisiting policies and, perhaps, changing them. But even in democratic nations, violence often occurs before that eventual solution comes to fruition. A threat of violence and upheaval is by far a better motivation for policy shift than non-violent protests. And, to be sure, even non-violent protests are just on the edge of the fear of mass upheaval and violence that forces change. In any case, the threat is inherent.
There is also the unpredictability factor when protests occur. After all, as I said, anger is the motivating factor of any protest. Emotions are high and some people can’t maintain that non-violent demeanor for long when amongst the emotional high of a mass protest. Additionally, some people never intend non-violence in the first place and use the excuse of a protest to indulge their inner anarchist. These sorts of people are often the catalyst for government overreaction via the police or military. Here I am reminded of my favorite quote from the 1968 Democratic Convention where Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley told reporters that the Chicago police weren’t there to cause disorder, they were there to preserve disorder. Ah, the man was truly an ignoramus.
Now, being aware that these intense emotions lie just under the surface of a protest is a must for organizers of such things. To imagine that everyone will comport themselves as if observing civilized Marquis of Queensbury Rules is not a given. Furthermore, we can’t merely assume that mass non-violent protests will force government to make the policy shifts that the protesters desire. It didn’t work for the anti-war nuts over the last eight years, did it?
And now we come back full circle. When is violence justified? Certainly we have seen by history that sometimes it is unavoidable even if not altogether desired. It is also a sometimes effective tool to effect change. Further it is something that our own countrymen have used effectively, indeed a tool with which we gave birth to the nation. Some of our most respected founders advocated violence, we must realize.
It may seem ominous, but violence is sometimes acceptable depending on the cause. Would you be prone to violence if you were a Chinese citizen protesting the evil Red government there? I would imagine most Americans would say violence would be acceptable in that case. Certainly every true American would agree that our founders’ violence against the oppressions of the English Crown was justified. But we are not now experiencing a similar oppression as that of Mad King George or the communist monsters of China.
So what about today? What about now? Of course, a dispassionate review of where we are today would tend to say that tax day violence is not justified in any way. But are future tax protests as off limits to violence if government does not heed the warnings delivered now? Even more to the point does a flat refusal to ever employ violence encourage recalcitrant government to ignore protests safely assuming that no real consequences for their actions will ever be imposed on them?
Of course we should avoid violence during these protests today. I am for sure not advocating a resort to violence. But if elections and the democratic process fail to impress government officials against their habits where does that leave future protests? Where does that leave the necessary policy changes?
These are subjects we all must carefully think about, historical lessons we must all drink in, all of it directing our actions now. It is the age-old question that should not be dismissed out of hand, questions that often come to bedevil protest movements. Government officials also must take heed before their arrogance leads us all down that road that we do not want to travel.