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Methinks Doth Protests Too Much

I have a hard time understanding the way we protest in America in the 21st century. I understand that it’s vitally important for citizens to protest, to voice their opinions, to speak truth to power. And do not misinterpret my position, I’m not for censorship or government shutting down protests. I just don’t understand the purpose of modern-day protests.

There is a time and place to protest, when a protest is essential, when a protest is not only the best but the only way to achieve change. But far too often today, protest is the default position for almost any political disagreement. Dialogue and other means of political discourse intended to produce change are not even attempted or considered.

The protests, the demonstrations, the marches, the lunch counter sit-ins, during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement were important and necessary. These protests were the only way to get the desired and needed changes in our country.

But the way the protests are playing out in the streets in modern day America do nothing other than make everybody more entrenched in their positions. Today, everyone is just playing to their base, to the people who already agree with them. Most of the time, the protesters and the protestees do not fully understand the nuances and intricacies of the issues at hand, and if they did, they may realize they are closer on that issue than they think. Oftentimes, the modern-day protests are solely about espousing propaganda more than achieving substantive change.

The best way to change my mind, to win me over to your side, is to state your position with a well thought out argument based on logic and reason, and supported by facts and evidence. If you do that, I will most likely change my position on the issue at hand.

But if you do not come to me with an intellectual argument, it will be nearly impossible to sway me to your side. Standing in front of my house holding signs, yelling and screaming, chanting slogans, brandishing weapons, does absolutely nothing to affect me intellectually. Those tactics have zero chance of getting me to change my position. Symbolic gestures, wearing a ribbon or an arm band, or kneeling does not convince me that your position is the right position, the one that I should hold.

If that’s all it took to sway the public’s opinion, then some of the most vile and evil positions could become accepted using those same tactics. But it’s very hard to win people over intellectually, to get people to empathize with your side, by looting stores, throwing Molotov cocktails, chanting propaganda or insulting people.

Has anyone changed their positions on any of the issues at hand because of all the protests/riots that have been raging throughout our cities for the last two months? Not many at all. Most people on all sides of the issue have used these protests/riots as further evidence that their position is right.

Has anyone ever said, “there are five thousand people marching down the streets of my city chanting some slogan, so I’m going to change my position on this issue.” or “people are looting stores and burning down buildings, so I now believe what they believe.” It rarely happens. Rarely. No one is changing their minds because of these tactics.

What is said very often is, “that speaker made some great points and backed them up with facts and evidence, so now I’m going to rethink my position.” That’s the way to change minds.

We should engage in vigorous debate as often as possible. We should flesh out every issue, and consider all sides of the debate. The voiceless, the minority opinions, on all sides of an issue must be heard. But many times, the people who are protesting the loudest want to shut down the voices and opinions of those who disagree with them. They believe if they protest, cause the most destruction, shout the loudest, prevent others from speaking, then they are right. But hearts and minds are never changed by those tactics.

People have been killed, businesses have been lost, buildings have been burned, but what has been gained? What? Nothing. So, what’s the point of these protests? Are they about change or destruction? These are strong arm tactics, not designed to win hearts and minds, or even attempt to create a consensus for positive change. The destruction and the threat of violence is used to force other people to get what they want. But that is not winning them over, it’s blackmail or extortion.

These protests/riots are like one prolonged destructive temper tantrum. What we say to my 3-year-old when she throws a tantrum is, use your words, use your words. The destruction has been pointless. The deaths are meaningless. Just use your words, make you arguments, and maybe the people will change their hearts and minds.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind