Hey liberal and progressive protestors, we need to have a talk, especially in the wake of what happened at the University of California Berkeley this past week. You guys really need to change the way you protest. There have been some really good protests these past few weeks including the Women’s March on Washington and the protests regarding Trump’s Muslim ban. There have also been some really bad ones (I’m looking at you UC Berkeley). Protests are totally fine and but they should never turn violent, no matter how bad things get. Violent protests only serve to help the other side and fuel your opponents.
For those that missed it, Milo Yiannopoulos was supposed to speak at UC Berkeley last Wednesday as a part of his college tour promoting his ideology in the wake of Trump being elected. Yiannopoulos is one of the more well-known leaders of the alt-right (read neo-Nazi) movement and a senior editor at alt-right news hub Breitbart. He is also a very large Trump supporter. His talks at other universities have involved slandering Muslims, people of color and anyone who doesn’t agree with his ideologies. His talks on other campuses have been met with resistance and protests including people speaking out during his speeches.
All of this came to head on Wednesday Feb. 1 when students at UC Berkeley decided to do everything in their power to keep Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. “Everything in their power” ended up being a violent protest held through the afternoon, into the evening and then into the early hours of the morning. The protest was successful in keeping Yiannopoulos from speaking but it also had a larger consequence. The riot destroyed the home of UC Berkeley students and injured others.
Quick disclaimer: I am very much a supporter of rallies being used as a method for protesting injustice. Allowing for people to gather together in support or against an idea is an integral part of the American democratic system. It has brought about change from the suffragist movement of the early 1900s to the Vietnam War protests of the 1950s through the 1970s. Peaceful protests work.
Protests against Milo at UC Berkeley. Protesters chanting "This is what community looks like." pic.twitter.com/a0YIZ3epIc
— Shane Bauer (@shane_bauer) February 2, 2017
What transpired last week at UC Berkeley is completely different from the protests of old or even the protests of the past few weeks. What started as a peaceful, albeit angry protest quickly turned into a riot. Rioters toppled and burned light fixtures. They broke barricades and damaged buildings. They even injured others that came out to counter-protest.
These kind of violent riots do nothing to help further a cause. Trump supporters have already made clear that they view liberals and progressives as thugs. The actions of those last Wednesday only help to fuel that argument. As a result of these protests, alt-right supporters can now easily show how “under attack” they are across the country.
Back during the presidential election cycle, former First Lady Michelle Obama gave an interesting speech about how to deal with all of the bullying and negative attitudes that were coming out of the campaign trail. The message was to the point, “when they go low, we go high.” That message speaks volumes about how the protestors should have acted. A few hours before the UC Berkeley protests, another rally was taking place on the other side of the country right here in Storrs, Connecticut. Students gathered on the steps in front of the Student Union to protest Donald Trump’s immigrant ban and his attacks on minority communities in the United States. While people were angry Trump supporters came to counter-protest, at no point did things dissolve into chaos or violence. Instead, the rally organizers led a chant of Michelle Obama’s famous quote and then blocked the Trump supporters from their mind.
As Martin Luther King Jr. preached during his marches, violence is never the answer. Violence only breeds more violence. If society is going to continue to fight the new oppressive Trump regime then it cannot stoop to Trump’s level. Violent riots like the one at UC Berkeley only help to fuel the fire.