Why Violence Doesn’t Work
When I was seventeen years old I was involved in a political protest that was violent. It was not meant to hurt anyone – in fact it was specifically designed not to by the two people who planned it – nonetheless it was not an act of non-violence. It was an act of violent protest at a university meant to protest links to the government of South Africa and its system of apartheid at the time. It was 1989-1990 and for people across the world, especially young people, it was an issue of major concern.
The act was carried out by a group of about seven people with two major players doing the planning with the rest following along. Only a single person ended up committing the vandalism while the rest kept watch or drove cars. The goal, at least to me, was to force the university in question’s hand to divest from all concerns which led to the support of the regime in South Africa.
There had been non-violent acts of protest on campus that year and in fact all involved in the act of vandalism in question had been involved in the planning of or participated in non-violent protests previously and in this instance branched off in what for many of us was an act of teenage impetuousness, impatience and haste. We could have probably achieved the same goals had we just kept carrying out acts of non –violence.
The main difference was in the impression and the legacy of the act. Sure we achieved some of our goals, but could have achieved them without the violence. But the impression people got was one of fear and aversion to political organizing regarding protesting policies. No doubt there are many who felt revolted by the measures which led to the changes as well they should have been.
In the end the divestment of the university from all concerns tracing back to financial support of the South African government at the time would be forever associated with threats, intimidation and violence. These are not things to celebrate. These are things which turn people off and make them wish to place distance between themselves and all things related to such acts.
No one knows what countless agendas we supported by that act. There will always be people that can now point to it and say, “see what protest leads to?” There was a crackdown after that on politically active people on the campus all of whom outside of us were peaceful in nature. The university used to celebrate differences and was known for having intelligent people of many different stripes which created an interesting mix and unique feel to the campus.
The recruitment of students and professors is aimed at a much more conservative group of students now, at least in comparison, and the feel of the school has changed. Not that there is anything wrong with conservative students at all, but I can’t help but feel partly responsible for the unfortunate demise of that once unique atmosphere – especially as I was not even a real student there at the time.
In fact one of the people involved in the vandalism, also one of the two who planned it and did the actual destroying of property, was said to be an undercover FBI agent who specialized in organizing such things on college campuses across the nation. This was intended to give a bad name to legitimate student organizing and protest as well as to justify increased budgets for the FBI and domestic spying. That makes sense as he was involved in organizing similar incidents at Trinity College and Brown University that same year. Afterward he went on to Columbia and at least another college, and recently started college for urban planning in Massachusetts. He also did grassroots Hip Hop organizing.
So in the end who knows how many countless agendas we supported and fueled which, had we known about previous to being involved, would have sent us running in the opposite direction. Though what I was involved in was meant to make a statement by destroying property and not hurting anyone I could not help but be reminded of it in learning of the tragic shooting of Senator Giffords of Arizona. Whatever the person wanted to get across, if there was anything political at all, will never be considered seriously or worse will now forever be linked to this incident.
Whatever he thought he was trying to help, if anything, he has now done irreparable harm to with this action. All people supporting things similar to him and like movements will be associated with him and his revolting act. In the end all it did was more harm than good.
Anger and frustration are normal when dealing with issues held passionately. Yet there are so many paths to redress for those issues which can help people to see the logic of a certain perspective. Violence only paints viewpoints in the colors of gore and fear. These things certainly push away people plus eventually lose the argument.
As such violence does not work. In matters of political and social concern, change or redress non-violent matters do work. They just take more work and thought. But, in the end they convince and inspire many more people. When it comes to political protest or statements non-violent means of getting your point across, whether behavior or rhetoric, is most effective. All else are the beginning of the spreading of poisonous cancer among the movements or issues they intended to be affected.
To read about my inspiration for this article go to www.lawsuitagainstuconn.com