OPINION: Peaceful protests won’t save marginalized groups

Graphic by Anikka Sophia Villegas

I am tired of calls for peaceful protests.

I want to make it clear: I am not advocating for violence. I don’t think violence is an answer, nor do I think peaceful protest is.

When it comes to marginalized students being confronted with those who seek to harm or outright destroy us, such as trans students targeted by President Donald Trump’s recent memo or LGBTQIA+ students being the target of Westboro Baptist Church protests, we are so often told the answer lies in peaceful protests. We are asked to participate in focus groups, sign statements, or gather quietly at another location to celebrate the good in the world.

Again, to be clear: These things are absolutely acceptable ways to engage with injustice. I welcome anyone who wants to be part of movements for a better world, no matter what that looks like.

Too often, however, marginalized students are subtly reminded that it’s not acceptable to do anything besides peacefully protest. Not even disruptive nonviolence is permitted, even though every major civil rights movement in the United States was built on civil disobedience and making a scene.

YouTube game critic and political analyst Ian Danskin, in his video “The Alt-Right Playbook: You Go High, We Go Low,” outlines the position right-wing politicians and reactionaries force progressives into. Essentially, by painting everything besides the most peaceful protests or outright capitulation as an unacceptable response to creeping fascism, the right forces progressives to either do nothing or make overtures so weak as to be useless.

The worst part of this is that too often, we play right into their hands. Progressives, in our quest to be as nice as possible and to not be seen as creating trouble, capitulate to the unreasonable demands of regressive right-wing groups and end up making little change.

The same strategies take place within leftist circles. In order to not be seen as troublemakers by more moderate or even conservative peers, we paint the same picture of peaceful protest and prim-and-proper debate as the only acceptable response.

It angers me so much that, when groups of reactionary, hate-fueled individuals who seek to create a country and a world without people like me come to campus and kick up a fuss, I can’t kick up a fuss back at them.

I find it almost humorous that many of the same people that preach tolerance and freedom of speech when it comes to allowing bigots to speak on campus will then turn around and tell the very groups affected by those bigots to be peaceful and non-confrontational.

Even the way the protests of marginalized students are covered by supposedly neutral papers tend to minimize our concerns. When Isabella Chow, an Associated Students of the University of California senator at UC Berkeley, announced her abstention from her vote on a resolution condemning Trump’s transphobic policies with a hateful, homophobic, and transphobic rant, the San Francisco Chronicle covered the issue with the headline “UC Berkeley campus senator abstains from a vote. Now students want her out.”

Obviously, I don’t attend Berkeley. Yet, everyone from Berkeley with whom I have spoken about the incident has made it clear that had Chow only abstained, there wouldn’t have been a problem. It was her speech, not her (lack of a) vote that caused conflict.

Still, the Chronicle’s headline portrays Chow’s actions as neutral and the students opposing her as not. Coverage like this only encourages defenders of Chow and groups like Westboro, who use it as evidence that they’re being attacked by “anti-Christian” groups with immense amounts of secret power and influence.

Please, if there’s some Big Gay or Big Trans lobby out there, point me to them, because I want to be a part of that. Also, someone please tell me how I, a literal Quaker, am somehow “anti-Christian” for existing while trans. Go on, I’ll wait.

In all seriousness, I would love to live in a world where the biggest injury anyone sustained in political and social discourse was a sore throat from too long-winded a speech. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where trans people (mostly trans women of color) are killed for being trans, Jewish people are shot to death in synagogues, and disabled people have our right to basic public accommodations constantly threatened.

As long as our lives are threatened because someone out there disagrees with core, immutable aspects of our existence, I believe marginalized people damned well have the right to march, to shout, to occupy, and to make a scene. Polite debate and well-edited news editorials are great but they only get us so far. It’s easy to turn off a debate on TV or fold up a newspaper. It’s harder to ignore a group that’s protesting every single day as you walk to class.

I’ve written for this paper before about feeling more like a talking point and less like a person when it comes to politics. I’ve been made to feel like something or someone people can reference when they want to make an argument. I’ve become little more than the sum of my identities, dissected into little bits people can shape to their own needs.

Marginalization removes your personhood. Protesting and making a scene helps to rebuild that personhood. Being seen in a way that you have complete control over — not being told to just be a little quieter, to just wait, that now just isn’t the time — is freeing.

In the end, I know I’m not going to change the minds of people like Isabella Chow or the parishioners of Westboro. I’m not aiming at them; I’m aiming past them.

If I lose allies because I’m not “polite” or “respectable,” good. I don’t want allies whose support hinges on me being polite or respectable. I don’t want friends who are going to abandon me when (not if) I don’t pass as cis or straight, when I’m too crazy or disabled or burnt out to behave in a way that lives up to their standards.

I’m not looking for allies who support me because I’m their charitable cause, another bullet point they can put on their resume. I believe in absolute autonomy and self-advocacy for all marginalized people, including and especially marginalized people who can’t or won’t live up to the standards those in power set for us. I don’t believe that any of us will ever find our liberation through assimilation.

I’m fighting for myself but also for people who don’t have the opportunities I do. People listen to me because I’m white, look male, speak “proper” American English, and know how to navigate the unspoken curricula of academia and politics. Lots of people don’t have those privileges, and it’s important to me that I listen to them and speak with them, but not speak for them or over them.

As long as we live in a world where people like me are murdered just for existing and have our basic human dignity put to a vote, I also think we should be able to live in a world where people like me are permitted to be loud and obnoxious and impolite until we have full rights.

I think that’s a fair trade-off.

Donnie TC Denome PZ ’20, CGU ’21 is a 4+1 Bachelors/Masters public health major from Sunnyvale, CA, and one of TSL’s Opinions editors. They went to the same high school Steve Jobs did, and yes, it was 100 percent Tech Hell.

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