Non-Violence as Violence

I am not a violent person. I like fluffy things and chocolate and big sweaters. If the only news I ever consumed was firefighters rescuing cats I would be the happiest person in the world. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this past year has brought up some new emotions for me — one of those emotions being anger.

Protests, marches and social media rants have all become part of my regular routine. The unfortunate side effect of this is I find myself defending my right to be angry on a regular basis. Which, really just makes me more angry.

In August, a group called Boston Free Speech hosted an event. Boston organizers led by Black Lives Matter Cambridge and Black Lives Matter Boston arranged a counter-protest in six days. Throughout the organizing process of this counter-protest, I was put on social media duty with a handful of other volunteers. We went about wrangling the constant wave of white liberal concern over the dedication to non-violence. People asked if they could bring their children, if this would be a peaceful protest, if the organizers would disavow violence. People said they wouldn’t come without this assurance. They threatened to withdraw support for the movement without an official statement.

The organizers were silent on the matter, and in the end 40,000 people still showed up.

What did these concerned citizens accomplish? Well, nothing really. I couldn’t tell you if anyone stayed home or made good on their threats. In the end, their individual needs weren’t centered, and they were never going to be centered above the needs of black and brown folks.

Now that a non-violent protest has gripped the country in the form of #TakeAKnee, I hear the same people complaining about divisiveness. So why this commitment to non-violence if even non-violence is going to be shamed? These same people will use examples like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi when it’s clear they haven’t done any research into either of them. MLK in particular was using his non-violent stance as a publicity tool. He knew that police dogs and fire hoses set on black folks in their Sunday best would move the needle on civil rights issues. He was right.

Non-violence works in select contexts, as a strategic tool, and can be a personal commitment. Asking others to adhere to your standards of behavior while fighting their own oppression is a form of white liberal nonsense that makes it about you.

If folks are marching in the streets because black lives matter, then you show up because black lives matter to you… or you stay home. Telling them how to run their movement, their protest, or how to feel their pain is just another way of making it all about you. In this current climate, making things all about nervous white people is a form of violence to those who are living in a system that kills them.

So next time you want to tell someone about the virtues of non-violent protest, remember that it didn’t stop anyone from threatening to kill Colin Kaepernick. It didn’t stop anyone from actually killing Martin Luther King Jr. And last time I checked, it wasn’t BLM buying up all the tiki torches to go to a protest.

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3 responses to Non-Violence as Violence

Great piece. It is also pretty concerning that when certain protests do turn physical, and certain individuals turn their rage on private property, others will call this violence. They will discount whatever deeper human trauma protesters are bringing to light simply because a few windows were broken.

Erynn, awesome, poignant article.

Others do not get to decide what each and every one of us is assigning value to.

Well said, timely. Happy to share it with my people!

Terrible article. When you want to spew a passive aggressive hate speech, please back it up with facts. It is absolutely absurd to try to pass BLM off as peaceful! This article is very racially driven, and solely your opinion.

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