What Protests Mean Today

Food for Thought

During our outdoor brunch in the East Village, we talked about the documentary we saw last night, “Crip Camp,” which is about the summer camp for teenagers with disabilities that inspired “a disability revolution” in the 70s. Initially, their protests drew little to no attention, which forced them to escalate their tactics, eventually occupying a floor of a government building for 28 days.

What is a “protest”? A typical way we use the term implies a minority subverting an established authority. Through its momentum, a dominant power tends to herd the masses in a particular direction without a legitimate reason. A comical illustration of it is in the following story:

A young girl asks her mother why she cuts off the ends of a ham before baking. Her mother realizes that she doesn’t know because she learned it from her mother. The girl asks her grandmother the same question, but she doesn’t know it either, because she too learned it from her mother. The great grandmother finally explains the reason: because she didn’t have a large enough pan.

A protest is effective when the masses lack critical thinking. If the girl in the story were to explain the original reason to her mother and grandmother, they would change their minds about trimming off the ends of a ham. The tide can turn almost overnight.

Protests today do not have this structure. 99.99% of Americans are against racism. Whose awareness are these antiracist protests trying to raise?

Several years ago, Pepsi produced a commercial that depicted a scene reminiscent of a Black Lives Matter protest. Kendall Jenner offers a can of Pepsi to a cop, and magically peace is achieved. It was widely condemned for co-opting the movement for commercial gain.

But, I would argue the reason the majority hated it is that it exposed the covert structure they themselves were employing. Today we see BLM protests filled with white people. The windows of businesses, large and small, are covered with signs that say “Black Lives Matter.” The idea of “protest” itself has been co-opted by the dominant power. Everyone is acting like a minority to redirect the criticism elsewhere, to some abstract, invisible enemy.