OTTAWA—New York Times opinion writer Jay Caspian Kang tweeted about the frustration of everyone who selflessly fights for the expansion of civil and human rights: “We just saw the culmination of 50 years of unpopular and fringe organizing and protest. It is truly bizarre that the response from so many who say they’re on the side of abortion rights is to play hall monitor and blow the whistle on actions they think will ‘be unpopular.’”
We just saw the culmination of 50 years of unpopular and fringe organizing and protest. It is truly bizarre that the response from so many who say they’re on the side of abortion rights is to play hall monitor and blow the whistle on actions they think will ‘be unpopular’
— kang (@jaycaspiankang) May 8, 2022
The feathers of power are being ruffled, and they don’t like it.
The threat of the repudiation of Roe v. Wade has been imminent ever since former president Donald Trump took office in 2016. The confirmation of associate justices Brett Kavanaugh (who was accused of sexual assault), Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch set in motion a conservatism of the U.S. Supreme Court that will ensure the makeup of that institution is one by which civil liberties for marginalized communities will be curtailed for generations. And the Republicans did this by stealing one of Obama’s Supreme Court picks, Merrick Garland. In a fait accompli, the court, the one with two accused sexual predators—one whose wife is implicated in the treasonous acts of Jan. 6—plans to strike down Roe v. Wade as part of a systemic and systematic rollback of all civil liberties and rights gained through the activism of our elders and ancestors. And what is the response of the white, liberal elite? To tone-police those who are protesting outside of the homes of judges Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Kavanaugh to protect a woman’s right to an abortion.
And protesting they are. People are sick of the injustices they are witnessing on a daily basis. If those injustices aren’t pandemic-related, they are borne out in the discrepancies and inequities they see around them. If the liberal democratic establishment can’t address the amalgamation of power against normal people to cause harm and the impunity that power has to act without recourse, what do they expect? Silence?
Apparently so, and there are many liberal democratic elites and established actors ensuring that the idea of protesting be boiled down to the innocuousness of a rally. Sandy Garossino, former trial lawyer and writer for the National Observer, channelled a lot of the establishment sentiment with the following tweet: “Demonstrating at people’s houses is never ok.” Oh it absolutely is. Doxing people is never OK, but protesting in front of their homes, which is not on their property, for their neighbours to see, is wholly acceptable.
Demonstrating at people’s houses is never ok. https://t.co/TJNyPw8xUY
— Sandy Garossino 🇨🇦🌻 (@Garossino) May 8, 2022
It is especially acceptable within the context of the Supreme Court striking down a Massachusetts law that provided a buffer zone between anti-abortion protesters and abortion clinics in 2014. “This growing horde of people has made the atmosphere outside the clinic tenser, more chaotic, and in general, a lot less comfortable for the patients,” The Atlantic reported. So then why is one set of protests acceptable and considered “non-violent,” while standing outside of someone’s house yelling things is not? What is the difference?
I want to ask these elites a question: how do they think they got those rights in the first place? Name me a set of civil and human rights that didn’t require protest and/or violence? I’ll wait. (Non-violent resistance is a form of protest, not a rally, which is what many of you need a dictionary to decipher.)
These elites will go on to tell us that protests don’t work, which belies their understanding of how activism works. Protests are just part of the toolkit, but it’s easy to say that something doesn’t work when you haven’t participated in it, especially when it threatens your power. Kang goes onto point out: “But such quick assessments not only wildly underestimate the difficulty of fundamentally changing American institutions; they also miss much of the point of protests. No organizers worth their mettle believe that getting people to march together and chant will immediately lead the powers that be to meet all their demands. Rather, the goal is to create an event in which people who are outraged can gather together. Within that space, connections are made, new ideas are tested, and the infrastructure for political action gets built. The street doesn’t always have to be a place to list demands for instant change. The Floyd protests, for example, led to a boost in voter registration for Democrats. The point is the people.”
That’s what the far-right understands. And they are killing the left in organizing and fundraising, primarily because they have the tacit acceptance of those in the mushy middle, or, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, wrote about the white moderate: “who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’” This sounds like Canadian Exceptionalism: to be devoted more to order than justice, with the air of paternalism whipping through the Great Lakes.
When liberals/centrists/moderates play hall monitor for civility, they have already given power to the far-right, and it’s up to those same activists to stop the erosion of justice and equity. If you’re not going to get in this fight, then stay out of the way because winter is coming for all of us. No justice, no peace.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.