I often say that protest ‘does no good.’ This statement needs to be qualified, somewhat. Protest does no good ‘on its own.’ Protest is a tactic that should be placed within a larger operational context, not, as many believe, an end in and of itself.
Protest is useful for:
– advertising or recruiting for a movement and establishing space within the public sphere
– embarrassing a center of power (an individual, a business, or a government)
– destabilizing an undesirable sociopolitical situation
– provoking a disproportionate response from a center of power in order to sway support away from it
– providing a distraction for other activities that substantially advance a particular goal
– building connections between dissident individuals and factions.
If used for the above, protest can be a successful and beneficial ‘tactic.’ If seen as the endpoint or core of a struggle, however, protest is detrimental as it consumes logistical, emotional, and organizational energy. It also puts individuals and organizations at risk of infiltration, incarceration, injury, or death. Think of protest as an energy cost rather than as a victory. You can go into the streets. You can piss off your oppressors or antagonists, but if you aren’t doing anything else it is a waste of time and energy, and a costly one.
Liberals believe that the purpose of protest is simply to advance a legislative or judicial agenda. This is dubious, as centers of power, even supposedly ‘open’ or ‘democratic ones, do not make or enforce rules for the purpose of creating justice. They do these things to create order, an order that is beneficial to oligarchs and reactionary forces who ally themselves with the centers of power. Centers of power also do not follow their own rules. Law and ethics are what people decide they are at any given moment, and this decision is, more often than not, made by powerful people rather than any supposedly objective moral metric.
You have the same agency to declare something just or unjust as any police officer, judge, court, or state jurisdiction. These actors are arbitrary, and these decisions are enforced with violence, and therefore devoid of any objective metric of just authority. The catch, of course, is that after you decide what is just and act on it, you and others must live with the consequences. Keep this in mind at all times. But if destruction and violence were ineffective or somehow ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the universe (or in the eyes of states), there would be no police departments, prison guards, or soldiers. Violence and destruction work. They are the only effective tactic when persuasion fails. States know this. You should understand it as well. There is no one keeping score but those who live, think, and feel right now. They are the only ones who matter in any practical analysis. Thinking otherwise is the child’s psychology of obedience that centers of power wish to cultivate. There is no God or elevated force judging you for anything. You are your own master. You choose. You act. You must go to bed at night, every night, with what you have done. It’s that simple.
Most importantly, protest is not an attempt to secure ‘rights.’ A right is simply permission granted by some center of power, permission that can be, and often is, revoked at any given moment for any arbitrary reason (usually to serve the interests or whims of power). To, unironically, quote the history instructor from the film ‘Starship Troopers,’ “something given has no value.” If your goal is to secure greater permission from a parent, particularly an abusive parent, you will always be subject to further abuse when the social climate changes. Only that agency, internally and within the social world, which is taken and held by practical means persists. Only that agency is real. Anything else is, like undirected protest, a waste of time and energy. Legal and political processes can be tactically beneficial, but they should be employed cynically and with the understanding that they will be dropped or bypassed at any moment should they prove disadvantageous. The fascists understand these truths, you should too.
And regardless of what moral metric you are applying to your actions or your movement, when a center of power starts hurting or killing you, all bets are off. You are morally justified in taking any action whatsoever to protect your person, to protect others, or to protect life. Self defense is not limited to the moment. There is a meta component to it, something that bullies everywhere understand very well but absolutely hate to acknowledge.
Some people or ideas just aren’t needed. They do more harm than good, to everyone. Any gardener knows that a happy, healthy garden involves pulling weeds. It involves violence. It involves making a judgment call about what to keep and what is causing more harm than good. This is the only law that matters, the law of nature and the nature of reality as it is, not as it is perceived through constructed human perception or faux moralizing. Fascists are correct about that. Where they go wrong with their ‘survival of the fittest’ analogy is in assuming that ‘fitness’ is some intrinsic quality. It is not. It is forged through education and experience and introspection and planning.
What I have described to you is how I perceive freedom, and how I perceive struggle, and how I feel that any effective struggle for justice or safety must approach conflict in order to be successful in the long term.
The only person you answer to is yourself. To do otherwise is to live and die as a slave.