In today’s world, protests have become one of the largest forms of fighting for a cause. Perhaps inspired buy the successes of protesters such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom preached peaceful civil disobedience, today’s activists often refer/revert to protesting as a way of not only acting towards what they believe in, but also gaining publicity and often times support for their cause.
Furthermore, Martin Luther King Jr. understood that protests unify people otherwise geographically separated. He explained this in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. By nature, protests bring together people with similar opinions and values. On a national scale, it often happens that a protest in one city gains support in others and the protest expands beyond the boundaries of city and state limits. It happens all the time! In 200_ the Occupy movement, which originated as a couple hundred people protesting income inequality on Wall Street, saw continued and feverish support in large cities across America ranging from Boston to Seattle. In fact, the state with the largest amount of Occupy movements was California- the state arguably the farthest from the origin (New York City). But what started as Occupy Wall Street, soon became a world-wide phenomenon, with protests in cities all across the world!
The Occupy protests were mostly successful in remaining passive and non-violent, like the American father of peaceful civil disobedience- Martin Luther King Jr.- would have wanted and been proud of. However, with Ferguson in the news, it’s hard to ignore the potential violence that protests can elicit. Protests turned riots like Ferguson call into question the very nature of protests, their values, and the validity of their cause. Does the violence violate the sanctity of the protests? Does the violence defeat or overshadow their purpose and their cause? Is this violence the undoing of peaceful protests in America that were made successful by Martin Luther King Jr.?
The simple answer: No.
To answer the questions, I believe you have to understand the nature of the violence. Why do peaceful protests turn violent? It happens because of fear. Protests are by definition large crowds full of people who believe in something so passionately that they are moved to act. In large crowds full of such emotion and tensions, it is easy for a spark of fear to erupt into a fire of violence. Little disturbances on the side of any party cause mass panic, and panic can often lead people to run to violence. If anything, our readiness as a nation to turn to protesting is something to be proud of. Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud that we are a nation which in the face of injustice unifies through peaceful protests rather than blindly turning to violence and revolution.