Today, lots of demonstrations labeled protests result in violence and destruction of property. But the best protests are those that use nonviolence to get their point across.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Today I wanna talk about what it means to protest. And I know that we’ve seen a lot of talk about protests in the news lately. there’s been the Olympics, people not wanting to salute the flag and not wanting to be a part of the national anthem. And even the NFL and the NBA for like the last five years. there’s, there’s been a lot of talk of protest. And even last summer of 2020, yes, there were Black Lives Matter protests all across the country. And some of them were peaceful and some of them were not. And I’m excited to unpack this with you guys because protest is such an important thing to our country and to, you know, who we are and what we stand for. And it’s also such an important part of free speech, which we love. but, you know, it’s not always super easy to talk about or to understand, you know, what types of protests and, what, you know, what even qualifies as a protest. So, Brittany, when I say protest, does anything specific come to mind for you? Like maybe something recent or even something throughout history?
Brittany: Yeah. so a couple of kinds of, I guess 2012 isn’t recent anymore, but there was like Occupy Wall Street, which was really big. Yeah. In 2011, 2012. more recently, you know, was people protesting the COVID Lockdowns, people protesting churches not being able to meet. And these were, you know, protests can kind of look different. I saw one protest that was just people singing hymns in a church parking lot and they were arrested. It was very jarring footage. but then you also think about the original Tea Party, You know, that was a protest that may have, that may have hinged on violent cause they were like taking property. We won’t get into that. But, you know, that was a protest as well. I also think of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Yeah. There were people protesting that. Even Iraq, I remember I had just moved to DC the week Edward Snowden made his revelations against the NSA. Wow. Yeah. So it was a crazy week to move here. Wow. And so, you know, people were at the White House protesting. So lots of protests that I can remember. And being a young activist, I can remember taking part in them. But, you know, what is a protest? And I’ll read this definition, of what we found on the internet, and it says a statement or action expressing disapproval of an objection to something. So for example, when the TSA got started, and this was something I was avidly against, a lot of us would go and we’d go to airports and we’d protest, we’d stand and say, I am against what’s happening here. Yeah. So usually it’s standing together and rallying together and saying, I am not okay with this. This is what we’re against.
Emma: Yeah. It’s, basically making your voice heard and saying, Hey, you know, this thing, this idea, this law, this concept, this violates what I believe to be correct or true, and I’m out here and I’m gonna tell you that I’m against it. Or, you know, sometimes protests can be even rallies where it’s like you’re rallying in support of something that you, want. So sometimes there are, like, I think that is technically a form of protest when you’re, you’re out and you’re, you’re talking about, yes, we support XYZ like, we’re all gonna go show up and show our support. So there are different ways that you can kind of, use your First Amendment rights. And the reason why this is so important, and the reason why we’re talking about it, is because protest is something that has been around, as long as America actually much longer than America Yeah. Even existed. And there have been all sorts of different protests, and you may have heard of, you know, the Boston Tea Party where people, you know, revolutionaries went out and dumped a bunch of tea in the Boston Harbor because the British government was forcing them to pay for something that they didn’t want and, you know, taxing them way too much. And it was getting them really angry. so protest is something that is very much part of what it means to be an American. And the First Amendment was pretty revolutionary when it was ratified because there weren’t a lot of countries that actually outright gave people the right to talk badly about their government or to criticize their government. That was like a crazy, crazy idea at the time. And the reason why our founders were so big on that idea is that because they were under British rule for a long time, and people were really fed up with being told what they couldn’t do, or say. And, that’s like why we have America as a country, to begin with, is because these people were protesting. They were saying, no more of this. And they, it got so heated that they decided to start their own country and, you know, declared independence and fought a whole war over it. So over the years, a lot of people have successfully protested for different rights and freedoms to be recognized by the government or for different laws to be abolished. and one of those, the most famous, I think in at least recent history is the civil rights movement. Yeah. In the 1960s, black Americans were not allowed to eat in the same restaurant as white people, or they couldn’t drink from the same water fountain or ride in the same part of the bus. And there was this huge movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. and a few others who were also prominent, but he was the main guy. And their whole thing was a peaceful protest in civil disobedience, which basically meant peacefully breaking laws that they believed to be wrong and that they believed actually violated the Constitution, which says that all men are created equal. So that’s sort of like when people talk about protesting, that you can’t talk about it without talking about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement and their protests were successful, they were able to, draw so much attention to the mistreatment of black Americans that the, it actually got the government’s attention and the government decided to say, Hey, there can be no more laws that discriminate against one person versus the other on their skin color. So that’s sort of like the big one that people talk about and the most famous sort of example of protesting and successful protesting. But that’s, that’s pretty different from a lot of what we see today, which can be a lot more like the destruction of property and burning things down. And Brittany, I don’t know if you wanna talk a bit about that and maybe sort of the difference between what MLK was doing and what the Civil Rights movement was about versus maybe what we’ve seen in the last year in a lot of our cities.
Brittany: Yeah. And you know, the last year has been to me very disturbing. And I’m somebody, like I said, who’s partaken in a lot of different protests, and I 100% believe in somebody’s right to protest, but I believe in the right to peacefully protest. Yeah. And that’s very different than, you know, destroying someone else’s property and setting something on fire, even, you know, a police car. There might be people who say, oh, but that’s a public property that is still a level of destruction and you know, fire can cause harm to people and violence that is not okay. Destroying other people’s stuff is not okay. And we’ve seen so much of that, you know, with Black Lives Matter protestors, and I don’t wanna say it’s Black Lives Matter in general, there’s a lot of very well-intentioned people in that movement. but there’s also a lot of people that just wanted to create, you know, chaos and Antifa, we’ve, you know, we’ve seen a rise of Antifa who just go to these events Yeah. Or these protests and you know, they just start throwing things through windows because they don’t believe in the free market and capitalism. So they think that throwing a brick through a target, you know, and then looting a target going in and stealing things is somehow a protest. And I heard one thing that really bothered me during last summers. I mean, I would call them riots Yeah. Is that people would say, use the excuse, oh, well, target has insurance, so it’s okay for us to vandalize and burn them down because their insurance will pay them. And you think like, okay, but that’s not okay. like, private property is one of the most important principles of our country. And when you go around and you start saying, you know, my belief in something is so important that I’m gonna burn down your business and take away your livelihood, that’s not okay. In fact, there was a black business owner who had spent all his life savings, and this was in Minnesota when the very first protest started, and he had spent all his life savings on, to open up this sports bar. And he was so excited. And the sports bar hadn’t even opened yet because of COVID. And so that ended up getting burnt to the ground during a Black Lives Matter protest. And he was just in tears. And I actually donated to his GoFundMe, which raised a lot of money. So did I. Yes. He was so sad. But I believe he was able to recoup his cost, but he wasn’t, he didn’t do anything. He was not somebody involved in George Floyd’s murder or, and so it was, it was just terrible. It was a really terrible thing. Yeah. Because you understood why people were angry, but you also couldn’t understand why they had to burn other people’s property and take things to get their point across.
Emma: Totally. And two Wrongs doesn’t make a right. That’s the other thing here. Yes. Is, you know, I think a lot of people would agree that George Floyd should not have died in police custody. And that’s unfortunate. And there are fixes that need to be made. And I would even say there’s a good reason to be out protesting and be out making your voice heard here. and I can see why a lot of people where that was maybe the last thing that sort of pushed them over the edge and they needed to go out and make their voices heard. That’s a really important part of America is being able to do that freely. but what is not a part of America is an excuse to go out and harm other people, harm people’s property, take away things that they have worked hard for. And like you said, Brittany, those property rights and that private property rights, those are so important to the fabric of this country. And also just to respecting other people in general, beyond, you know, America as a country, it’s, we do not have anything if we don’t have a respect for each other’s personal properties. So that’s the big problem that I have with the Black Lives Matter protests that we’ve seen over the last year. and beyond that too. It’s not just that they were violating other people and their property, but it’s not making a good persuasive argument to the rest of the country that they should listen to you when people are afraid that their city is going to be burned down and that people’s stores are gonna be smashed and that they’re gonna be looted and stolen from when you’re trying to make a persuasive argument to someone, you want to do that by presenting it in the best way possible. And by being convincing, pointing to evidence. And we talk all the time about logical fallacies and about how you can make a good argument, but harming people and making yourself an aggressor does not make a good argument that, you know, we need to let the government be less aggressive or that we need to, you know, protect people’s rights more. I agree actually with a lot of, you know, people’s grievances that they had when they were out protesting. But I would never have felt comfortable showing up to a protest where I could have been, you know, lumped in with people that were stealing stuff and harming people. So that’s the big problem here, is that you know, the way that you present your case and the way that you present your argument shows a lot about you. And you want to represent if there is something that means a lot to you, and it’s like this huge, huge issue that you care a lot about, you wanna represent that well, and you wanna be out there making the best case possible. And I think the number one most basic thing you can do is to make sure that you’re not putting other people in harm’s way.
Brittany: I think that’s, you’re absolutely right. And I think that’s why the Civil Rights Movement was so impactful, is because it was very peaceful and not only peaceful, but you had the state, you had police officers beating people. Yeah. But you never saw anybody strike back. And not even saying that necessarily, they didn’t have every, you know Right? Or, you know, a justification to strike back, but they didn’t because that was the whole point. Like you said, they were representing an idea. An idea that was very important, that it was a basic human right. And so for them to get that, they had to show that they were going to peacefully get it, even though the government was not peacefully, you know, acting upon them. Yeah. So I think that’s really just a powerful example of how a peaceful protest, you know, we talk about Boston, I was gonna say, Massacre, that’s a different thing. But the Boston Tea Party was not necessarily peaceful. Right. , it still got the job done, but it was not peaceful. Right. But I think the civil rights movement is a great example of a peaceful protest.
Emma: Totally. And another thing that’s interesting to me is there’s been a lot of protest around the American flag lately, and I know that we just did an episode about the Pledge of Allegiance and how it’s actually not really what most people think it is. And I, you know, I don’t think anyone should be forced to stand and salute the flag or pledge allegiance to the flag. I think America is just fine without forcing anyone to do that. But, an interesting thing is, you know, when you see people who are representing America to the rest of the world and how they choose to do that. So recently, I know we record these podcasts a little while before they come out, but, at the beginning of the summer, there was a hammer thrower, which I didn’t even know that was an event before, but.
Brittany: I had no idea.
Emma: It’s a pretty, cool name for an event, a hammer thrower who, when the national anthem came on during basically like, I’m forgetting the name of it, but qualifications I think for the Olympics. she turned away from the flag and put a shirt over her head and said that she was really upset and that she had been ambushed that the flag was, or that the national Anthem was playing. And again, I’m not someone who believes that anyone should be forced to do anything. You know, if you don’t wanna stand up for the flag, then you shouldn’t have to. And if you don’t wanna sing along with the National Anthem, then that’s fine, but she is representing America to the rest of the world. Yeah. And that’s a pretty well-known job description of someone on the Olympics.
Brittany: Literally what the Olympics are.
Emma: That is what the Olympics are. It’s a time for, you know, all these nations to compete in athletics and it’s this great like, show of patriotism. So for me, it was a little surprising to see her, you know, be so, you know, oh, I can’t believe that they played the national anthem, cuz I’m just thinking, well, did you, did you think about like what the Olympics are gonna be like then? Yeah. Because it’s gonna be all these different national anthems and flags and you’re literally gonna have to wear the flag on your uniform. so that was kind of interesting, but it made me think about Jesse Owens, who, when you look into who he was as a person, maybe we’ll have to do an episode about him. He was an amazing, amazing Olympian who in 1936 competed in front of Adolf Hitler, who had made his whole life’s creed that certain, you know, that the Arians, which are like, basically these like blonde blue-eyed white people were superior to everyone else in every way. And he was a horrible racist. And, you know, I don’t need to tell you guys how bad Hitler was, but he was at the Olympics when Jesse Owens, who was a black man, beat all of the Germans, beat all of the Arians and actually showed up and had this incredible display of athleticism. And he won. And he was awesome. And he was so proud to represent America there. And later on in his life after that, he always went down in history as this amazing figure who showed up and basically proved Hitler wrong to his face. and it’s awesome. That is such a cool form of protest. He showed up Yes. And he was like, I am going to beat everyone else and just show you guys that you’re wrong. So later on in the sixties, there were some other Olympians who when they went to perform in an event, I forget where it was, but basically, they went up on the podium and they did this like, black power fist thing, which was kind of like a big thing in the sixties. And they turned away from the anthem and they basically did what the hammer thrower did. They were like, this is not my national anthem. And Jesse Owen said something really interesting about this because he said, you know, this is the wrong battlefield. If you wanna fight that battle, then fight it at home. Don’t do it on the world stage. Go out there, be proud of America, and when you get back, you can work on making it better and you can make your voice heard. And I thought that was really interesting because we’re talking now about like these international protests and the Olympics and all of this where he makes a good point about like, again, being persuasive and finding the right time to choose your battles and make your voice heard. I think the way that you present your argument and the way that you protest is almost as important as what you’re protesting because you’re presenting to the outside world what your case is for your cause. So Jesse Owens is a really cool person. I’m thinking that we’ll need to have an episode on him because I just think he’s so awesome. But protest is, it is an awesome thing. It’s an important part of our country and I love that we’re all able to do it. but yeah. it’s definitely an interesting thing to see what gets called a protest now and what doesn’t. So, Brittany, I don’t know if you have any closing thoughts you wanna tell us about any more protests that you went to before we close it out for today.
Brittany: I think the important thing to remember, cause I go on it, but to so many protests is like you said, that when you’re representing an idea, it’s very important that you’re representing that idea, in a way that shows how serious you are about it. And I think if you’re burning things down and breaking windows, that’s not doing that. So I think we should remember Jesse Owens, we should remember Martin Luther King, and remember how to do this the right way because protests are very powerful when done correctly.
Emma: Amen. Yes. Protest is awesome. Protest is powerful. Use it wisely. And we will wrap it up there. We’re a little bit overtime today. I’m gonna throw some stuff in the show notes about Jesse Owens and maybe some stuff about the First Amendment. We will talk to you all later. Brittany, thanks for chatting.
Brittany: Talk to you later.