One day after anarchists smashed the windows of Starbucks and burnt a limousine with the stated purpose of protesting Trump’s inauguration, half a million marched on Washington and many more across the country as part of the Women’s March. The contrast in the behaviors of the two groups of protesters proved critics of Trump need not be violent in order to protest.
In fact, peaceful protests are almost certain to be more successful than looting and rioting. While there were no reported arrests at the Women’s March, more than 200 individuals were arrested the day before. Most arrests were attributed that to the fact that the Women’s marchers were peaceful, marching and carrying signs but not attacking people or property.
However, Jess Zimmerman, a contributor to the New Republic had a different explanation: white female privilege.
“Bad behavior is enough to lead to arrests, but good behavior isn’t enough to avoid it. If the cops didn’t arrest anyone, it’s because they didn’t want to.
A glance at any Women’s March photo will give you a clue to the reason. Underneath those pink hats were a lot of white faces — a stark reminder of the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, as one protester reminded everyone with a sign that later went viral. The average marcher did not look like John Lewis, or like Ieshia Evans. The average marcher looked like me — a white lady. If I don’t look like someone a cop wants to arrest, that’s not a testament to my law-abiding goodness, or the cop’s. It’s a testament to how sexism in this country fuels racism, and vice versa. It’s a testament to exactly what we need to resist.”
“This is not about people doing stupid stuff and getting arrested. Really, the police are cooperating. This couldn’t happen without police cooperation.”
The problem with these explanations is that they don’t account for the vast differences in the behavior of protesters at the Women’s March and those of other protests that involved violence. The 230 rioters who were arrested at Disrupt J20 weren’t arrested because they were black — indeed, most were white — they were arrested because they were violent.
Rioters smashed shop windows and car windows, burnt a automobiles, blocked ticketed inauguration attendees from getting to their seats, stole MAGA hats, and injured six officers — If race was the only reason the Women’s March protesters weren’t arrested, then most of DJ20 would have gotten off easy, too.
Comparisons with Black Lives Matter protests are also facile. 102 were arrested at a Baton Rouge protest in early June where a police officer was punched and highways were obstructed. Protesters in St. Paul, where 200 were arrested, reportedly threw glass bottles and Molotov cocktails. The riots in Ferguson in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s confrontation with a police officer resulted in dozens of buildings burnt down and products stolen. Rioters in Baltimore interfered with the fire department after buildings were burnt.
Rioters anywhere will be arrested. In Hong Kong in 2016, radical democratic activists began lighting fires and throwing bricks after a dispute with the police escalated. They were arrested there, too.
The right to free speech does not include smashing windows and burning cars. Nor does it serve any purpose — pragmatic or ethical — to do so. Starbucks’ CEO didn’t vote for Trump. The limousine that was torched on Inauguration Day was owned by a Muslim immigrant who just wanted to make a living.
Many of the shops that were looted in Ferguson and Baltimore were owned by immigrants who had nothing to do with the deaths that were ostensibly being protested. Nor would it be justifiable to attack property even if it was owned by a Trump supporter or a white man or a member of the wealthy elite whose “silence” represents “acquiescence” to the “racist power structure.” Even someone who supports a terrible policy is entitled to protection of their person and property, this country being a democracy and all.
Moreover, even from the protesters’ and the Lefts’ point of view, they would have more success at pursuing their agenda if they eschewed violent protests.
The Women’s March earned more positive headlines than did Disrupt J20. Most people are okay with protesters expressing their point of view. Sometimes protesters, if they have a large crowd, might have to march down a street on a set route for a certain amount of time, but they don’t have to block a highway indefinitely out of no purpose other than to disrupt. Americans are not sympathetic to pointless displays of violence and attacks on civil society.
The Women’s March and other subsequent mostly non-violent protests against Trump have, however, also been ridiculed by some on the Right for the content of some of the speeches and signs. This echoes how the left ridiculed the Tea Party. From the start, liberals called Tea Partiers “tea baggers.” Janeane Garofalo said conservative women had “Stockholm Syndrome.” The NAACP condemned the Tea Party as racist, and some Tea Party signs were slammed for being stupid or racist — including ones that depicted Obama as a witch doctor.
Neither side has a monopoly on Hitler comparisons and stupid signs, and both sides are guilty of hypocrisy in selectively cherry picking the worst examples of their opponents for condemnation.
But because of certain characteristics of the Left, such as the fact that collectivism lends itself more to collective protests than does individualism and the fact that a good deal of leftists romanticize French Revolution-style “resistance,” progressives are generally more likely to have large-scale marches and marches that often push or overstep the limits of the law. It’s no coincidence that, more often than not, the people occupying a public park or a pipeline construction location are leftists. Most progressives aren’t waving Soviet flags at a World Trade Organization protest, but most people waving Soviet flags at WTO protests are progressives.
The problem for progressives and even for those radical protesters who aren’t violent is that even if the violent thugs are “a tiny fraction” of the many, that tiny fraction is going to disrupt the lives of innocent people and dominate news coverage. Progressives must be responsible with their words and actions and condemn such violence. Rather than feeling guilty about the fact that there were no arrests at the Women’s March, they should use it as an example.