In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln said: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” A month later, the American Civil War broke out.
It seems discontentment today has risen to a boiling point, and people, no matter the disruptions in their lives, have taken to the streets, en masse, to show their displeasure with government policies. Some protests have simmered down since the COVID-19 pandemic, while others have again risen in spite of the outbreak, such as the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the U.S.
Protesting comes when persuasion, discussions, and dialogues have failed. It is granted in every free country’s constitution — the ability to assemble and protest peacefully.
Toppling statues vs rioting
The act of removing statues with a horrific history so that society can move ahead peacefully has been carried out in many countries. Beginning in the 1990s, statues of Lenin were removed from Ukraine. While in 1991, the country had more than 5,000 statues of Lenin, there were only 2 remaining in 2017, and that too in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. A new law denouncing communism and renaming settlements with communist names were all indicative of how much the nation despised the horrors of its socialist past.
And all over the world, as protests against racism and police violence have renewed attention on legacies of injustices, people have been asking: Does this statue still need to be here? The answer from some protesters has been a resounding no. In England, a 17th-century slave trader was dumped into Bristol Harbor. In Antwerp, a Belgian king who brutalized Congo was burned and ultimately removed. In the United States, more than a dozen statues have been toppled, including many Confederate figures. And in dozens of cities, those that still stand are being challenged with petitions and protests or are scheduled for removal.
The public demonstration of anger that resulted in the removal of statues that symbolize repression or inequality is quite different from the public outburst of anger combined with looting and the senseless destruction of property. All this, while foreign enemies jeer on and flame the racial divide into inciting even more violent acts.
There is a time to hope that your councilor or political representative will do the right thing. Then, there is the time to write and collect signatures to ensure that they are up to the task. Failing which, the democratic system mandates that the majority can ensure their will is put in place through the voting apparatus.
The power in peace
A lot can be achieved through peaceful protests against the government. Looking at history, such peaceful protests have changed the faces of societies and the destiny of entire empires. The peaceful protester is looked at with awe and admiration by the everyday public. They are even emboldened to join the cause and defend the protesters.
This is not the case when it comes to violent uprisings and mass mayhem. Because the majority of people are not anarchists. They believe that only in a secure society will they be able to provide for and bring up their families.
The peaceful protesters are the smart protectors for they know that when the authorities exert their uneven power on them, the public will be enraged and, through this feeling of injustice, be willing to speak up and provide them with much-needed support. That’s what was realized in Hong Kong and now in the United States.