Montana Politics US Politics

When to protest

This is more of a question than an answer. Three recent protests come to mind. Did they make a difference or were they all for naught?

First of all, I’m channel surfing Friday night and land on CNN. At the Trump rally in Chicago, people are yelling, shoving and punching. Trump supporters have just been told the event has been canceled. The anti-Trump protesters are celebrating. Violence breaks out. It’s a nasty scene revealing the current ugly underbelly of American political discourse.

Two weeks ago in Missoula, a thousand marched in support of refugee resettlement. This was in response to smaller anti-refugee rallies that had been held in Missoula and Helena. Although there were a handful of the anti-refugee folks at the Missoula march, there was no violence.

About seven months ago, two women from the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a Bernie Sanders event to deliver their message. While many in the crowd were angry at the women, again, there was no violence. Sanders deferred to the women and let them speak.

Concerning the Trump event, I got into a heated exchange with a woman about its efficacy. She thought it was great that so many people turned out to disrupt the event, and that Trump had to cancel. I argued that the protesters fueled the Trump supporters’ continued xenophobic and violent ways, and while Trump’s message is repulsive, there is that First Amendment consideration. My take was that the Chicago protest did more to help the Trump campaign than it did to hurt it – and that violence begets more violence. I also like to think that progressives will take the higher road when it comes to confrontation.

Moving on to the Missoula march. The woman I mentioned above said that it could have turned out much the same as the Chicago rally. I disagreed. The speakers at that event weren’t egging on the marchers to attack the anti-refugee participants, and the pro-refugee marchers weren’t the kind of angry, riled-up zealots that tend to participate in Trump rallies.

But what did the march accomplish? Well, I doubt it will bring about a radical societal shift. It did, however, show that the Missoula community is more open and accepting than the anti-refugee movement would like you to believe. It also showed support for our elected officials who stated that they were not opposed to refugee resettlement.

When I first viewed video of the Black Lives Matter interruption of the Sanders’ event, I was disturbed. Who, I thought, would be a better champion of that movement, of all the major party candidates, than Bernie Sanders? And aren’t these women hurting their cause more than helping it by alienating potential allies?

It made me uncomfortable, watching the video, and being uncomfortable can be a good thing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I knew little about the movement or the plight of minorities at the hands of police. It made the candidate address the issue, too. These are positive things.

Protests are an integral part of American democracy. And they sometimes turn ugly and violent. The civil rights and anti-war movements of the sixties saw lots of cracked heads, even deaths. But it advanced those movements and created change.

I’m not going to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to the aforementioned protests, and I hate to use the word “battles,” but when you pick one, make sure it’s going to advance a righteous cause, not hinder it. If there’s a potential for violence, then that cause should be damned important and the outcome had better be worth it. That’s my humble opinion.

I welcome your comments, gentle reader, but please keep them civil and succinct.




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    • Pray tell, oh master of politics and ethics, how should people respond to xenophobic thugs who want to intimidate refugees and those who would support them?

      I’m sure you have a well-developed answer for how critics should behave.

  • I have no problem with peaceful picket lines outside Trump’s rallies. Or with peaceful street theatre. But I don’t think disrupting Trump’s events helps. Trying to shout him down and keep the people at his rallies from hearing what he has to say is a terrible mistake. People who try to silence the opposition instead of providing good arguments against it have little confidence in the good judgment of their fellow citizens, and even less confidence in the power of their own arguments. Angry leftists who try to incite scuffles at Trump’s rallies simply help Trump.

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Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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