The people are angry. An unpopular and politically dangerous man has been elected to be our next president without winning the majority vote. When people are angry, we take to the streets.
There is a certain romance to the political protest. The imagery of bringing down a political oppressor through a well-thrown Molotov cocktail is the stuff of leftist dreams. I get it. I feel it. But it isn’t realistic.
The most effective protest movements have always been nonviolent. The politically powerful and those that support them are ready and willing to quell unrest in the streets if it crosses the line. Hearts and minds are not won through smashing up store fronts. It feels good. It feels just. But the point of a protest cannot be to make ourselves feel better. It cannot be to simply vent frustrations. The goals must be well-defined, clearly communicated, and enforced.
Since the election results were announced, organic protests have sprung up all over the country, even in bright red Southwest Florida. It gives me hope to see so many people who are passionate about showing their displeasure with the fact that America just elected an untrustworthy, misogynistic, racist con-man to the highest office in the land. But without leadership, without a plan of action, and without community cooperation, organic protests will result in injury or worse and can ultimately hurt the cause.
The response to the protests from the right are, as expected, almost entirely negative. Protesters are accused of being paid by George Soros (I honestly had never even heard of him until this year), of being unemployed (unlike, of course, all of the Trump supporters who had no trouble attending rallies on Tuesdays at 11am), of being crybabies (as opposed to the Tea Partiers who graciously accepted Obama’s nomination), and of having no respect for the election process. The right will do what the right does, that’s unavoidable. But untrained protesters who do not know how to de-escelate conflicts, do not know how to refuse to engage with agitators, and do not know how to reign in opportunists looking to wreak havoc will end up either getting hurt, hurting someone else, and being generally ineffective.
We need leaders to stand up, get organized, and plan protests responsibly. We do not need an unruly group of angry people walking around flipping off another unruly group of angry people. We need a clear set of goals. We do not need to be motivated simply by frustration. We need to hold each other accountable. We do not need to pat each other on the back for being the bestest revolutionaries ever.
My advice is to avoid these organic protests. Save your energy and invest in it a protest that has leadership, organization, and accountability. If a protest is coordinated by established groups in your area with a track record of being invested in the community and social justice, find out what you can do to help. If it is coordinated by some guy with a Facebook account and little else, consider the consequences of joining such a demonstration.
When you go out, whether it is with an organized group or just a motley crew of your friends and neighbors, you will be opposed. You will be taunted, spit on, pushed, yelled at, flipped off, insulted, hit, blocked. You will be in danger. You have to know how to respond. If you do not know how to respond, do not go. If the leader of the protest is not offering training or advice on how to respond, do not go. The civil rights protests of the 60s were not spur of the moment, off the cuff responses to injustice. They were meticulously coordinated with community leaders invested in the advancement of the movement.
We need to get back to that core philosophy:
Be impossible to ignore.