Protesting against decisions and actions that are deemed unfair is a part of Oakland’s heritage. From the Black Panthers Party of the 1960s, to 2011’s Occupy Oakland demonstrations, to the recent decisions regarding the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, Oaklanders have always expressed their opinions and let their voices be heard.
As you know, a lot of Oaklanders have been expressing outrage over two recent legal decisions (one in Missouri, one in New York) with heavy racial overtones. As a Keep Oakland Beautiful board member, I’m not here to comment on these decisions. Rather, I would like to take this opportunity to weigh in on the ‘art of protesting’ and how protesting impacts the beauty of our community.
Personally, I believe in the right to peaceful protest. Being allowed to do so is one of the things that defines our country and makes us great. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
To me, the key word is ‘peaceably.’ When protest actions involve breaking windows, breaking and entering properties, stealing, vandalizing, and causing injury to others, those constitutional boundaries have been overstepped and the protest is no longer peaceful.
When that line is crossed, peaceful protesters become violent protesters, physically or economically harming innocent, local business owners and our neighbors. Furthermore, the very issue that’s being protested becomes tarnished rather than enhanced by the violent response. The violence can even be a turn off to other peaceful protesters, further diluting the cause.
Most of the people recently protesting in Oakland did so peacefully; however, there were a few who took their actions too far. I, for one, encourage all of us to speak out for what we believe in, but to do so in ways that can best be heard and considered – being heard is not enough, the message needs to be received in a way that allows others to openly and honestly evaluate a perspective that’s different from their own.
To me, it’s more powerful to protest in support of something (e.g., ‘we must work together to make our neighborhoods safer for all’) and to offer solutions than it is to only voice my outrage. A compelling case for change is more likely to be heard and considered by those of a different persuasion than would a violent reaction to the status quo.
By protesting in favor of change or by proposing a solution to an issue, the same important, emphatic points can be made, but in constructive terms that can bring disparate parties together to discuss and build upon those ideas, rather than to merely voice anger that may widen the divide. Also, in constructive protest, there’s less risk of someone resorting to violent tactics that would turn others’ perceptions of the protesters from ‘voices for social change’ to ‘criminals.’ I believe a constructive protest can serve to engage both parties in frank conversation that can lead to identifying common ground, enhancing understanding of one another’s points of view, building trust, and finding joint solutions.
However you choose to express yourself, when you feel it’s necessary to publicly protest an issue, I urge you to heed the spirit of the words of James Madison, author of the First Amendment. Assemble ‘peaceably’ and respect others’ property and well-being. By doing so, we can Keep Oakland Beautiful and safe for all.
Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.
We encourage you to share your thoughts in the reply section. We welcome the dialogue and learning of others’ perspectives.