In recent weeks, I’ve noticed what seems to be an increase in the vocal and sometimes violent disruption of school board meetings, political speeches, and other organized events.
These protests are sometimes well-organized by groups of activists. More often, they seem unplanned and unhinged: personal issues and unrelated frustrations boil over into the public square, doing little good for the instigators and even less good for those in attendance.
We can blame The Usual Suspects: the pandemic, social media, etc. with ease. What is more important for us to acknowledge and address is this: when disorder becomes routine, progress becomes difficult.
When free speech cannot be heard uninterrupted and debate carried out with some sense of civility, ideas cannot blossom. Policy cannot be formulated, much less legislated. Society suffers.
When we can only hate and attack our enemies–and define ‘enemy’ as anyone who disagrees with us–we have no chance to reconcile and find common ground after confrontations, debates, or elections.
The ‘established order’ of things can be said to only benefit those ‘on top’. Of course, this is true to a certain extent. Rich people like favorable tax laws. People who are discriminated against want change.
How we go about changing a society that is ruled by laws, fair to many, and admired by most is tricky business. We can vote, advocate for change, and protest injustice. We can also famously be the change we wish to see in the world.
However, when we act out and disrupt orderly public hearings, speeches, or events frequently and without legitimate purpose, we erode the public’s sensitivity to protest: to voice your opposition to a candidate, law, or event should be a well-considered decision, not taken lightly…or frequently.
It is often and justly an action of last resort to those whose voices have not been heard by their elected officials or public institutions. The issues to be addressed in such a forum should be substantial and warrant the disruption of normal life and established protocols. The George Floyd killing warranted such protests. Requirements for children to wear face masks in schools during a global pandemic, I venture to say, do not.
I’m not making a political statement here. I’m offering a word of caution. It’s easy to throw a temper tantrum and call it political protest. It’s much more challenging to do your homework on an issue, become informed, get involved, join forces with like-minded people, advocate for change with the local powers that be, inform the public, and stay the course.
Then, if all that falls on deaf ears, take to the streets and protest. And, when you do protest, you will be doing so with a sense of power in your position and your beliefs. You will know what you want and how you can get it. You will have the resolve to persist. You will, in the end, know when you have accomplished your goal or at least made tangible progress.
This approach, too, is a reflection of order. Yes, spontaneous public outcry will affect some change sometimes. Most of the time, however, emotional reactions to public policy or political events end in violence and end with little more than disorder, destruction, injury, and death.
Lasting change is the result of strategic, organized, and well-executed plans with concrete goals, envisioned and implemented by discipline, relentless citizens…yes, in an orderly manner.
So remember order. It’s not just for the establishment.