The Right Way to Protest

“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

– Martin Luther King.

Is there a right way to protest?  I pondered upon this question while I remembered the Mexican media and the public’s reaction to feminists spray-painting monuments to demand justice for women. While those monuments were restored, can we say the same about the lives of the 9 women who are victims of femicide every day?

This protest aimed to get the government’s attention and demand proper action. Yet it was rendered controversial. People took on to social media to show their disapproval, “This is not the way”, “I get that women are angry, but there are better ways to do this”, were among the most popular sentiments, and the media, unsurprisingly, focused more on the vandalized monuments than on the issue being protested. 

(Photo by ROCIO VAZQUEZ / AFP) (Photo by ROCIO VAZQUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

So, is there a right way to protest? To answer this question we first have to know more about peaceful and violent protests: It is a fact that nonviolent protests can be very effective, according to Erica Chenoweth, Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard,  peaceful protests have two times more probability of success than violent protests since they can recruit more participants within a broader demographic, which leads to a stop in urban life and the functioning of society. We can see many examples of peaceful protests from the Arab Springs—a wave of pro-democratic protests which spread rapidly due to social media and ended up toppling the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.—to The Montgomery Bus Boycott, a civil rights protest during which African Americans refused to ride city buses to protest segregated seating, this boycott is regarded as the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. But what happens when peaceful protests are not heard and demands are not met? Is violence the only option then?

We cannot deny the fact that violent protests led to a change too. For example, the Stonewall Riots, which occurred on June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the StoneWall Inn, an LGBTQ+ club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States and worldwide.

Even if people protest peacefully, there are still factors that affect that protest’s possible success: the unification of protesters, the number of people protesting, and the media’s portrayal of that protest. Isabel Bramsen, who studies international conflict at the Copenhagen University, believes it’s important for protesters to unite, Chenoweth found that it was only until nonviolent protests reached a 3.5% active engagement threshold that success seemed guaranteed. Peaceful protests, despite being twice as successful as violent protests, continue to fail 47% of the time because they don’t garner enough support. 

While I believe there is no such thing as a “right” way to protest, we must consider the fact that when a protest turns violent, the media’s focus will, unfortunately, be on whatever is destroyed or damaged, rather than on the cause protesters are fighting for. Like Omar Wasow, a professor of Politics at Princeton explained in an interview with The New Yorker: “…when protesters engage in violence, often in a very understandable response to state repression, that tends to work against their cause and interests, and mobilizes or becomes fodder for the opposition to grow its coalition.”

(Photo by Chandan KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

People protest injustices for the government to act, they should never be violent, but there is no option but to cause discomfort when the government doesn’t care at all about the issue and dismisses our suffering. In this case, have we not every right to tear everything down?

The causes we fight for should be the focus, not the stores owned by multimillionaires that can easily be replaced. When you complain about the looted stores or spray-painted monuments, do you actually care about them, or do you just not support the cause, and this is your way of saying so?

While peaceful protests have been proven to be more effective, there is no such thing as a “right” way to protest. Complaining about a way of protesting just takes the attention away from the issue and allows the coalition to grow. If you don’t support the cause, it’s better to say so instead of complaining about stores owned by multi-millionaires, monuments, and statues that can easily be restored.


Graphic Designer, Writer

Fer is a high school senior who is passionate about drawing, learning languages and writing on The “Mexican Chronicles”, a blog she created to bring awareness to the issues mexicans currently face and to share the stories of mexican youth. Through zenerations, she hopes to write about her passions and current world issues.

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