In about 40 minutes, this blog post will probably be totally irrelevant. Everyone’s focus will be on the specifics of the grand jury announcement in Ferguson, Missouri and the specifics of the aftermath. It will be great, grand, dramatic, sensational news.
Which is why I feel some inner compulsion to write it before the announcement.
My Facebook feed today has been replete with announcements of protests. Usually there’s a caveat that says “we’re gathering regardless of which way the announcement goes.” To which I say, “Well, then, what are you protesting?”
Good. Go ahead and protest. We have a long history of exercising our first amendment rights to free speech and to peaceable assembly. And in our history, many courageous people have exercised those rights at the risk of great bodily harm.
So, go ahead and protest. Just don’t equate your protest with action.
Action requires much more than protest. Does anyone remember the Occupy Wall Street Movement? Tell me what it accomplished. There was some press. The issues of economic division were highlighted. But has any progress been made towards the divide between the rich and the poor as a result of the Occupy Movement. Show me the goods.
Protest is a function of rage. When we act out of rage, the fundamental anger gets channeled into the belief that we have to do something. Get out there. Walk the streets. Carry a sign. And in some cases, damage property, burn things, and hurt people. Rage rarely accomplishes anything in the long term. Rage is the flash in the pan. It’s gone in the same way that a firecracker explodes and results in fragments of paper on the sidewalk. And it’s the easy way out.
Instead channel that anger into action. By contrast, action is hard work. It comes from an innate sense of curiosity. Why are things the way they are? It means finding out who the major players are. In means talking with people. Sometimes hundreds of people. And it involves time. Channeling anger into meaningful action probably won’t happen between the time of the event and the announcement of the grand jury. One has to steel oneself for the long haul, for the persistent, consistent slogging toward learning what’s behind what happened and formulating a strategy for dealing with it. And in a fast-food culture very few have the patience or the fortitude for the kind of work that it takes. But I’m convinced taking a posture of patience, channeling our anger into a deep understanding of what we’re dealing with, and then formulating an action that will be successful is the only way that real progress will be made toward righting the wrongs that populate the headlines and that so many of us experience every time we get out of bed.
So, protest if you want. And on occasion, I may join you. Just don’t confuse protest with action.