Social Question

lifeflame's avatar

Have you been in a non-violent protest where things have gotten dangerous? To what extent will you use non-violence to stand up for things you believe in?

Asked by lifeflame (5805 points ) October 5th, 2009

And, would you ever consider using violence to stand up for things you do believe in?

I’m particularly interested to hear from people who have had experience in putting themselves out on the front line (whether violently or non-violently) for social change.

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21 Answers

Critter38's avatar

You may want to define what you include in the term “violence”. To some this includes property or economic damage, to others it doesn’t, and can thereby make a big difference to people’s responses.

lifeflame's avatar

Let’s include property or economic damage.
I’d consider setting fire to someone’s car as an act of violence.

Dr_C's avatar

There was a brief period last year in the city of Tijuana (i grew up splitting my time between Tijuana and San Diego) where there were a string of kidnappings and murders. These were perpetrated by organized “gangs” and would follow trends. At first they would target business owners, lawyers, journalists and at one point doctors. Many a protest was launched and to this day there are campaigns “against violence and insecurity” in Baja California. My experience pertains to some family friends and teachers of mine being abducted. Some of them thankfully were returned alive. Many weren’t so lucky.

One of my best friends’ father was brutally murdered a block from his home, gunned down by several men with assault weapons because as a prominent business man he had the audacity to publicly complain about lack of security in the city.

One of many rallies called for all physicians and medical students to come together and march on the Municipal and State government administration buildings in Tijuana. I had never seen so many white coats in one place at one time. We marched peacefully and were met with threats and at some point a few instances of physical violence.

There were campaigns (the FBI was hired with consultant status) that taught physicians about specific security measures, how to avoid being kidnapped, what to do if you were abducted, and weapons training (we dedicate our lives to preserving life and were being taught to end it.. how’s that for irony?).

Thankfully these days seem to have gone from the city I love and (through an almost complete overhaul of the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies) there seems to be an air of peace. You still see assault weapons in the streets, but that’s in major intersections where the law enforcement agencies are actively searching out illegal weapons (it is not legal in Mexico to carry a weapon) and known felons.

I participated in that march not because i felt a need to take physical action against a specific aggressor, but to show support for my colleagues and to try to bring a little hope to a city that desperately needed it.

I for one would never go to a violent extreme except in the case of an unjustified invasion. In that case i would treat wounded (from either side no matter what) and would only take up arms to defend those who could not defend themselves.

rooeytoo's avatar

I was teargassed several times during Viet Nam war protests in DC. Wasn’t a nice experience. But I never wanted to go to jail, that didn’t help any cause. So no, I wouldn’t resort to violence, too risky, I am a sheep basically, I will follow the leader for a cause I believe in, but only so far. I know wishy washy but realistic.

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marinelife's avatar

I believe in non-violent protest, but I dislike the mob mentality that can get out of hand at large-scale events.

I participated in several anti-war protests. One involved a march on downtown and a rally. When the leaders began advocating that the crowd move onto the interstate highway and shut it down, I left. I thought that had a real potential for violence. I also did not believe that stopping movement in the city was a good way to win converts.

When I was in college, violent anti-war protesters shut down the university one quarter. They would gather at all the entrances to campus and build large bonfires. I tried going to classes, but stopped when a group of students decided to take over the physics building. I was caught in the elevator of that building with a bunch of wild-eyed, shouting radicals. I was 17 and had never been away from home. My family was 3,000 miles away. I shrank back into a corner clutching my calculus book to my chest while they yelled and pounded on the elevator walls. Finally, one of them looked at me with disgust and said, “What are you afraid of? We’re not going to hurt you.”

I didn’t say anything, but I thought then, and I still wonder now, how the heck I was supposed to know what they might or might not do when they were doing such violent things as shut down school and take over buildings.

whatthefluther's avatar

I participated in a non-violent sit-in protesting the Viet Nam war as a freshman in high school and participated in non-violent groups throughout high school and while attending UCLA. Things never got dangerous for the group, but the occasional loudmouth protestor would bait a cop and get arrested (which is stupid….the cop is not the intended audience of the protest). The goal of a protest is to have a position heard that will result in change.. If a protest position has merit, people will support it, the group will grow, it will be noticed and its voice heard. Whether the suggested change ultimately occurs is subject to the specifics of the situation and factors affecting it. Those that resort to violence are usually in a small group whose position lacks a general appeal and does not obtain widespread support. Their violence comes from the frustrations of not being seen and heard or by their desire to make headlines fast. What many don’t realize is their actions are counterproductive to their goal, as their position suffers by association to the violence. There is no room for violence if you want to be legitimately heard and given consideration. If you want your picture in the newspaper as well as a nice mug shot and don’t really respect your position or care how your actions affect it, violence can provide the desired result.
See ya….Gary/wtf

gussnarp's avatar

I’m not sure that property destruction should be included in the definition of violent protest. Unfortunately, it technically is, so keep that in mind when you hear news reports of violent protests. The media can (and do) use this term for anything from real violence against people all the way down to knocking over a newspaper rack. While I don’t condone either, I think it is unfortunate to lump them together as if they were equivalent.

Now to the question, I have taken part in non-violent protests against the Iraq war and against the Patriot Act. I neither case (and one was a relatively large protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC) was there the remotest hint of violence or trouble. The police stood by looking like storm troopers, but did nothing. The protesters did nothing violent or destructive of property, and everything was smooth as could be. Two groups did concern me, one were pro-war anti-protesters on the sideline, they also didn’t do anything violent, but the angry shouting and rhetoric coming from them was far more troubling and perhaps inciting of violence than anything coming from the anti-war protesters. The other group were masked anti-war protesters. Knowing what the Black Block anarchists have gotten into at other protests, any time I saw protesters in masks I moved well away from them. But as it turned out, they did nothing untoward.

gussnarp's avatar

@whatthefluther I agree with you about the purpose of protest. Protesters need to show some level of respect for others in order to not alienate people. The goal must be to raise awareness of an issue and get people thinking about it. If you make everyone mad you aren’t going to win anyone over.

JONESGH's avatar

I have not been in one as of yet, but find this thread interesting since I will be taking part in a non-violent protest in November.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I was in one during college when a fraternity used a big room in the student union (the upkeep of which all students pay for in fees) and had a party where they and their girlfriends wore blackface and dressed the room to look like a plantation. They costumed themselves and served food from the old stereotypes of the Jim Crow days. They made no effort to hide what they were doing and insulted students who confronted them. It got so that the campus police had to shut their party down.

After word got out on campus, there was a protest march past their chapter house a couple of days later. They were plenty drunk and threw things at us. But there were more of us than there were of them, so throwing trash was as far as it went. The university suspended their chapter from campus.

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lifeflame's avatar

Thanks for the extensive answers.
Mmm, to those of you who don’t consider property destruction violent (e.g., @gussnarp, @Critter38), I’m curious why. I’ve kind of always assumed that it is violent, but obviously it is not the case for everyone.

Also, if there are anarchists around here, I’d love to hear your point of view.

gussnarp's avatar

@lifeflame The word violence to me just doesn’t include property destruction, never has. It’s not politics in any way, the first time I saw a news story in which property destruction was specifically cited as a violent act I had to go look up the definition of violence, and was actually quite surprised to see that it included property destruction. I’ve always sort of assumed that most people, like me, think of actually physically hurting another person when they hear the word violence.

Kraigmo's avatar

When I was in my late teens, I protested UCLA for their experimentation/torture of cats and monkeys. These weren’t pharmaceutical tests for the benefit of mankind. These were cruel brain shock tests, of dubious value.

In the lobby to one of the many vivariums… , we had one group in one, while the real pros went into the other to film the actual cats. But I was in the other vivarium lobby for distraction, along with about 30 others. It was a small room crammed with people. And then I don’t know who started it, but all hell broke loose when the police showed up. I got thrown against a wall, and a big painting on that wall fell off and banged my head with the frame. The KABC cameraman who was there was very nice, he put his camera down to see if I was alright. I was fine, there was so much adrenaline, that bump on my head didn’t hurt at all.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the particular college inside UCLA, the other guys in the group busted into the cat vivarium, and videotaped everything that was going on in there, and it was horrible, and all the network news channels (this is Los Angeles) aired the footage.

The risk I took at UCLA is nothing compared to risks the G8 protesters take, and a grain of salt in a giant ocean, compared to the risks taken by the monks of Burma, and the oppositionists in Iran.

SolitaryMan's avatar

Yes, its called marriage.

Nullo's avatar

I believe that there are times and places where the use of violence to make a point is justified, most of which coincide with self-defense (i.e. blasting the face off of an intruder is you upholding your belief that you may defend your home).
In the context of explicitly non-violent demonstrations, I’d say that you’d better stick to your nonviolence or else totally lose your message. Then it comes down to how much you value your message.

bea2345's avatar

In 1968 I was an undergraduate at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. I took part in a march from the campus to the residence of the Prime Minister, then to the Parliament, to protest the banning of Dr. Walter Rodney. As the march proceeded others joined in and by the time we reached Kingston city centre, the crowds became increasingly violent. Eventually the march turned into a running conflict with the police, whose method of crowd control was to throw teargas and then attack with batons. I was with a friend: when our way was blocked by a shower of stones across the road, we two turned back and returned to the campus. By then of course, the campus was in an uproar, there were no classes that day and the following morning the police, armed, surrounded the campus. A number of university lecturers and students were beaten up by the police. It was the violent reaction of the police that incensed parents from the other islands of the Caricom area – UWI is a regional institution. My favourite memory is of the diplomats from Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados insisting on being allowed to ascertain that their compatriots were safe and sound: they showed absolutely no confidence in the word of the chief of police.

We never intended to trigger off any riots if that is what we did. But Kingston was ripe for trouble: union trouble, corruption, unemployment, desperate poverty – Western Kingston contained the worst slums in the West Indies at the time. Add to that brew the rhetoric and music of black power – the place was pretty volatile. There were riots in Trinidad and Tobago two years later for pretty much the same reasons.

Just_Justine's avatar

I won’t go into a long story, but I was standing in a queue for two days, yes two days. It was a license issue. Plus a dead line issue. When I got to the end, a few meters away, they decided to close shop. It was around 11pm at night. I went mad. I started chanting “No way!” every one followed suite. There were about 600 people behind me and I started to run with the intention of smashing their offices. I know it sounds shocking, but the six hundred followed me. I nearly caused a massive riot. In a country rife with violent protesting. So my answer is yes I would which shocks me. I have been in the middle of violent riots a well. I fear I am a violent person overall.

Val123's avatar

I’m from the 70’s. Of course I wound up in protests, one of which turned violent. Seems like every time I turned around somebody was protesting something. After my experience, though, I just stayed away from them. Here’s the Wiki on my experience
If you bother to read it, I can say one thing…The police are full of bullshit when they say no brutality was used. I got the shit knocked out of me with the butt end of a shotgun when I was trying to LEAVE. Another guy in his car, also trying to LEAVE, had his driver’s side window busted out by the cops and was dragged out of his car. They completely over reacted all the way around. They started out by trying to tear gas a small group of trouble makers, not taking into account the fact that the wind was blowing directly into the park, where there were all kinds of men, women and children minding their own business…and all hell broke loose.

It’s OK, though. Eventually some of the more violent hoodlums overturned a police car and set it on fire! ROFL!!!!

Brian1946's avatar

I’ve demonstrated against 2 different wars: once in the sixties and again in 1991.
I didn’t see or encounter any violence in either of those protests.

@rooeytoo @whatthefluther

Right on!

I also protested against the Vietnam War. I was at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1965 when I did.

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