Protesting as a means of expressing discontent is a recurring theme recently, as it has been the response to both the proposals for UC tuition increases and the ruling in the Ferguson case. Then there are the people protesting about workers having to work at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. On top of protests on Black Friday about unfair treatment of minimum wage employees, there were the protesters calling out the shoppers who prioritized discounts on vacuums over recent racial injustices, using the terms #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutBlackFriday in relationship to the ruling on the Ferguson case.
I am curious to see how much surface area of the world would be covered if you highlighted all of the places where people were protesting. Some of the pictures of the protesting look pretty apocalyptic too, like a scene out of War of the Worlds. We aren’t even under alien attack, unless you count a flawed judicial system, militant police officers and economic inequality as extraterrestrial.
In all of this chaos it’s common for some people to shame rioting and highlight the negative impacts of protesting and what effective social organizing looks like. I understand where some of these riot shamers are coming from when I think about everyone trying to commute to work and those who are trying to enjoy the little time they do get off of work. In my own experience back home in the Bay Area, I know that the closure of several BART stations impacted peoples’ plans to explore the city when they were in the area visiting family. However, the frustration that comes from showing up late to work and not being able to make it somewhere is nothing in comparison to feeling as if your life does not matter. When it comes to the riots taking place on campus about the tuition increase proposal, some people look down upon it because they think that it’s ironic that students are skipping class that they pay tuition for in order to protest about how much tuition they pay. But if their voices aren’t heard now, there is always the possibility that they may never be able to attend another class at a UC again.
Instead of commenting about how everyone is doing it wrong, I think President Obama’s outlook toward the Ferguson case and the resulting protests can be used to lessen some of the riot shaming. Obama revealed in his ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos that he thinks there is an “empathy deficit” and that both sides need to acknowledge the concerns of the other. The president also thinks that police officers should “work with the community, not against the community” and that protesters should remain peaceful. Even though saying that there is an “empathy deficit” is a relatively passive response, I think we should still acknowledge it.
If there was more empathy involved in our reaction to the protests, we would be able to see the beauty in some of the ways communities have come together amidst all this chaos instead of the way the media portrays it. One example of community are the protesters who stood in front of a store to prevent it from being looted by other protesters on Black Friday. When news reporters asked them their intention in standing there, they said that they came just to peacefully protest and did not want anything bad to happen. Then there is the popular photo of the police officer hugging the black boy holding a “Free Hugs” sign at a Ferguson rally in Portland. It is important that we keep these images in our mind instead of solely focusing on all the destruction the protests have led to. The protests have played their role in fostering a sense of community among a group of people who have a desperate need for it, as they feel alienated from their justice system, the armed force and their employers.
If you want to find beauty in the breakdown instead of looking down on people for standing up for what they believe in you can email NICOLE NELSON at email@example.com.
Graphic by Jennifer Wu