I never participate in protests, demonstrations, or marches of any sort. I would encourage you not to do so.

It’s not from being apathetic or uninterested either. As a former political science professor specializing in American government and ethics, I have profound reservations about this form of so-called “activism.”

Constitutional Foundation

The foundation for these types of activities does lie in the Constitution but in a slightly twisted version of it. Here’s the actual text from the Constitution. It comes from the Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights:

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.

Congress is prohibited from making laws that curb these rights. It can’t curb our ability to “peaceably to assemble” or “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Where all this got twisted into thinking we have a right to set up camps, barricade ourselves in academic buildings, destroy property, and act like idiots is hard to infer from the official language. It’s a real stretch.

Cracking down on lawlessness is not inhibiting free speech, except in very twisted minds and tortured logic.

Why do People Justify Protests, Marches and Demonstrations?

This statement from an article in the Christian Science Monitor is instructive:

“… Bettina Aptheker, a retired professor who co-led the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964, which set the stage for the student activism of the period.”

The article identifies her as a former professor and radical from the 1960s. This is not unusual in the least. This reference caught my attention because it illustrates something most people aren’t aware of.

These radical students who protested through the 1960s and 1970s basically never left campus. They became professors and administrators. I know this for a couple of reasons. They were my professors, colleagues, and administrators in the 1980s and 1990s when I was doing my own Ph.D. work and when I worked in academia as a professor.

They were largely unapologetic about their radical pasts.

They’ve trained the current crop of professors/administrators who are in turn training the current crop of students we see protesting.

They’ve trained students and others to believe that protests, marches, and demonstrations are desirable and legitimate democratic activity. It’s a standard part of “activism” training in higher education. They teach it as if there is something noble about it although there is nothing noble about it.

I wish they would train them in something better. More on that in a moment.

Roots in The Letter from a Birmingham Jail Written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Protests, demonstrations, and marches were part of the Civil Rights Movement and student protesters seemed to take their inspiration from them.

If you haven’t read The Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it is well worth your time.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explains his reasons and rationale for engaging in these tactics.

I can sympathize with King and why he chose these methods. I understand and somewhat sympathize with why he did what he did when he did it. I also trust that he could follow his high-minded philosophies and act appropriately.

However, I have no faith in others’ abilities to follow these philosophies and tactics the way he did or for his reasons. Things break down when they move to the masses. We see evidence of that daily.

King abhorred violence. Those currently engaged in protests, marches, and demonstrations don’t seem to have caught this vision. I seriously doubt if any of them have even read The Letter. They certainly aren’t conducting their activity according to his prescriptions.

What are Positive Democratic Tools?

If you cut out protests, marches, and demonstrations, what else is there? Elder Dallin H. Oaks answered that question in his General Conference address, “Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution” in April 2021.

Our belief in divine inspiration gives Latter-day Saints a unique responsibility to uphold and defend the United States Constitution and principles of constitutionalism wherever we live. We should trust in the Lord and be positive about this nation’s future.

What else are faithful Latter-day Saints to do? We must pray for the Lord to guide and bless all nations and their leaders. This is part of our article of faith. Being subject to presidents or rulers7 of course poses no obstacle to our opposing individual laws or policies. It does require that we exercise our influence civilly and peacefully within the framework of our constitutions and applicable laws. On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.

There are other duties that are part of upholding the inspired Constitution. We should learn and advocate the inspired principles of the Constitution. We should seek out and support wise and good persons who will support those principles in their public actions.8 We should be knowledgeable citizens who are active in making our influence felt in civic affairs.

In the United States and in other democracies, political influence is exercised by running for office (which we encourage), by voting, by financial support, by membership and service in political parties, and by ongoing communications to officials, parties, and candidates. To function well, a democracy needs all of these, but a conscientious citizen does not need to provide all of them.

Let’s itemize them. These are the general guidelines:
  • We should learn the inspired principles of constitutionalism and uphold them.
  • Take our responsibility to uphold and defend constitutional principles seriously.
  • Pray for our leaders and ask the Lord to bless and guide them.
  • Voluntarily subject ourselves to our rulers and our laws.
  • Influence our government and other citizens peacefully through appropriate channels.
  • When we are at odds with the government or other people we should seek to “moderate and unify.”
  • Seek out and elect good people to government positions and support them.
  • Be knowledgeable citizens and be active in civic affairs.

Notice that the next paragraph is wholly devoted to the United States and other democracies.

  • Run for office ourselves.
  • Vote, both for candidates and for issues.
  • Financially support people and causes.
  • Be members of and support political parties.
  • Communicate with officials, parties, and candidates.

Why the difference? Why the specifics for us and other democracies? I think the answer is simple. When you live in a democratic system you have positive tools of democracy available to you that aren’t available under more repressive governments.

The students and others should be using positive tools and not the negative tools they’ve been taught.

What are Negative Democratic Tools?

Protests, marches, and demonstrations are negative. Negative democratic tools are usually based on emotion, often destructive, expensive, and result in people losing faith in government, government institutions, and democratic processes. They are just that, negative. They don’t generally accomplish anything positive if anything at all.

I think this is where protests, marches, and demonstrations fall. I’m not alone in this and it’s not because I’m a Republican or a conservative. Former Congressman and Democrat, Barney Frank shares this view.

From an AP article that ran October 10, 2009, in The New York Times, entitled "Rep. Frank Says DC Gay Rights March Misses Mark" here are some excerpts:

Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, says he'd rather see gay rights supporters lobbying their elected officials than marching in Washington this weekend, calling the demonstration "a waste of time at best."

Frank, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he considers such demonstrations to be "an emotional release" that does little to pressure Congress.

"The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

Gay rights advocates should borrow from the playbooks of the two most effective interest groups, the National Rifle Association and the AARP, said Frank.

"Call or write your representative or senator, and then have your friends call and write their representative or senator," Frank said. "That's what the NRA does. That's what the AARP does."

Protests, marches, and demonstrations are simply people yelling for someone to do something about a problem. In a democracy that someone can be YOU! There’s no reason for someone else to act when you have that ability.

These tactics MIGHT make sense under a more repressive government if you have no other tools available to you.

For example, women used them when they didn’t have access to the vote or any other positive tool. Blacks resorted to them under very specific circumstances during the civil rights era. They technically had access to the positive tools of democracy but were often systematically precluded from utilizing them.

If you can’t vote or elect your leaders, etc. what else can you do?

In America now, we have all the positive tools of democracy available to us. There is no reason to use anything else.

Negative Democratic Tools Result in Negative Outcomes

So, what typically happens when negative tools are used? Look at the news headlines. The outcomes are clear:

  • unrestrained emotion
  • verbal assault
  • physical assault
  • mistrust
  • anger/fear
  • intimidation
  • discord
  • alienation
  • property damage/destruction
  • police presence
  • garbage/cleanup
  • expense/costs/wasted money

I could go on, but this is enough. If anything positive results it is usually because somebody somewhere uses a positive tool. For example, some recent protesters disbanded because a university negotiated and agreed to put divestiture to a vote.

Besides the basic problems I’ve covered, these efforts often get hijacked by outsiders intent on creating mischief and frequent violence. This is evident from the number of non-students arrested when these encampments have been broken up by law enforcement.

Positive tools and tactics don’t tend to generate news coverage. If news media chose not to cover these negative tools and tactics, those involved would disband soon enough. Instead, they egg them on.

There are better ways to do things. Always choose the best tool for the task. In a democracy, the best tools are always positive tools and tactics, the ones that “moderate and unify” and are done “civilly and peacefully.”

Free Speech

Free speech is used as an excuse for a myriad of things. That doesn’t mean it is justified. It’s not a suitable excuse to say anything you want or do anything you want. Free speech does not justify lawless behavior.

Lawless behavior is lawless behavior.

These students have plenty of opportunities to exercise free speech. They just chose the wrong avenue and the wrong venue. They and others are being deluded into thinking they are doing something noble when it’s just illegal. Getting arrested is their first clue.

I wonder if and when they’ll clue in.

Continue reading at the original source →