Protests Achilles’ Heel

Creating a successful protest is extremely difficult. The reality is that if it is big enough to garner international media attention, then the media will find a flaw in the organization. Whether it is one individual in a group of thousands or an event that happened nearby that was associated with your protest. Juliette Beck was given a well paying job, pursuing a fast-paced career, but instead decided to pursue her passion of fighting against the WTO, and IMF. During these protests, many American citizens were shocked to see people beaten and peppered sprayed only for protesting. These protests were successful in a sense because they brought a lot of attention towards their movement. It also increased the critical analysis of the WTO and the practices of the Clinton Administration. The problem that is consistent with many protests is that the leaders of the protest can not control all of the people at the protest. They also can not stop random people, with alternative goals from being connected to their movement. This seemed to happen with the 1999 Seattle Protests. When some individuals in the community wanted to take advantage of the police’s focus on the protest, and decided to use violence and force to achieve their intentions. This has been the weakness of protests since the beginning of time.

The question is how does a protest control the people attending? They can always speak to the people and talk about the importance of non-violence. The reality is that this doesn’t work. As we saw with the protests in Seattle and recently with the Occupy movement and the Baltimore protests. The occupy movement began as a decentralized movement that was reacting to the greed of Wall Street. It was one of the most successful movements since the civil rights protest if you look a the numbers of people that showed up. The group was represented across all of the major cities in the United States and even in world. The issue is that the media is always looking for a way to criticize the goals of the group. I remember back in highschool when I lived near San Francisco, there was a lot of media coverage of the events in San Francisco and Oakland. The issue is that Oakland is one of the most dangerous areas in the US due to the high poverty rate and gang violence. This lead to the media connecting shootings in the neighborhood to the movement. Even if they were miles away from each other, the media tried to blame the occupy movement for spurring violence in the area. Furthermore, many young individuals decided that the police’s focus on the movement meant it would be a good time to further their personal goals. This lead to many people in the area to violently protest and attack the police. It became counterproductive and lead to hundreds of arrests. But how could the original occupy movement people stop the people in Oakland? With no central leadership, the only thing that could occur would be for the other movements to denounce the violence in Oakland.

We can also look at Baltimore as a perfect example of violence taking over the face of the protest. Even though the protest began as a reaction towards the killing of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police, it quickly escalated. Police cars were burned and the riot police were pelted with rocks and homemade explosives. Next looting of shops began and people businesses were robbed without the protection of police. The only thing that the original protesters could do was attempt to protect the identity of the protest. Their best course of action was to protect the businesses and make it seen that they did not support the use of violence. What surprised me most were the gang’s ability to come together to achieve a similar goal. The police blamed the Bloods and Crips for teaming up to attack the police. This lead leaders from both groups to come forward and ask for peaceful protest and for collaboration between gangs. My question is how can a decentralized movement protect its identity? How can they ensure non-violence? I was unable to find a solution.


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3 thoughts on “Protests Achilles’ Heel

  1. I find it amazing that people can find the will to go out and put their bodies on the line during these protests. They face incredible threats of jail time, pepper spray, tear gas and much more. To add onto this, organizing a protest takes a considerable amount of time and probably takes away a persons ability to fully commit to their job. It seems like the odds are stacked against protesters, but clearly they still try to fight on, which is very admirable.


  2. I think the idea of a violent versus nonviolent protest is hard subject. It seems like a very, very thin line to walk where not partaking in violence is almost harmless or not as seen as a big deal to some, and violence is just too over to top to be taken serious and anything the protest seeks needs to be shut down immediately. Perhaps a mix of both is optimal?


  3. There was a quote of something like “People have different definitions of violent” or something in the after Seattle Piece. I think that’s a good insight here, and it makes me think of our ethical theories and the question of intent. Maybe intent would be a good way to differentiate the violence from non-violence (why is it being done? Out of our desire for revenge?), or perhaps “good violence” and “bad violence” if we can even make that crude delineation.


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