Summer Series #6: Conservatives Don't Get Protests

By Lizy Rutherford

Procter and Gamble, the corporation that owns many household brands such as Tide detergent, Charmin toilet paper, and Vicks cold medicine, recently put out an ad about “the Talk”. It features several black families, each in different eras, having that first talk about racism. They range in topic from beauty to the N-word to interactions with the police. The ad ends with the line, “It’s time for everyone to #TalkAboutBias.” While the ad has generated much praise, it has also generated a bit of controversy, mainly by white viewers/white Trump supporters who find it racist towards white people. Their answer? A boycott.

Except this is not how one starts a boycott. Firstly, the words “if” or “this seems like a great time to start” should not be written at all. A good protest never goes anywhere with passive language. (Sidenote: no hashtag? In the age of the Internet?) Secondly, this is obviously a reactionary post, as the poster seems to be unaware of just how big P&G is. For the April-June 2016 period they made $16.1 billion in sales from their 65 brands. Simply put, P&G is too big to effectively boycott. They made the ad knowing they would lose a couple customers without it significantly hurting their businesses. And thirdly, you can’t just stop buying a product in the name of politics without having a plan in mind. How long do you boycott? What alternative companies should you support instead? Is an apology from the original offender enough to end the boycott? Without these details, you end up shooting yourself in the foot, so to speak. However, what is striking about this particular screenshot is who the link was presented to. It was posted in a public Facebook group called ‘The Deplorables’, a group with 484,000 members. The fact that a boycott was suggested for such a large group as something to try for the first time (“if you have never boycotted before,”) illustrates a largely overlooked fact about conservatives: they don’t actually know how to protest.

Or rather, at the very least, they don’t seem to know how to do it well. When the second Muslim Ban came about, it was US Federal Judge Derrick Watson who issued an order that effectively disabled it. The supposedly more “courtproof” executive order was meant to block all nationals and various entrants from six different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States in the name of “preventing terrorism.” The Hawaiian judge’s order, however, blocked the two most important sections, Sections 2 and 6, which relate to policy and the authority to admit entrants. To retaliate, Trump supporters decided to boycott Hawaii by launching the hashtag #BoycottHawaii on Twitter, based on the premise that what the judge did was illegal. Even if that were true, they did this without realizing that there is actually a thriving Hawaiian independence movement. Believe it or not, it’s not a very good idea to boycott a state that wants to be separated from the rest of the US.

#BoycottHawaii is but one of many failed protests conservatives have attempted, next to the many annual gripes about holiday greetings and Starbucks cup designs. However, it goes beyond mere ignorance of any type of protest outside of boycotts. During Trevor Noah’s infamous interview with sensationalist Tomi Lahren on the Daily Show, she called Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem “disrespectful” (starts at 8:18). But when Trevor Noah pressed her to answer what she believes is the right way to protest, she kept consistently avoiding answering until she spat out, “I don’t protest, I’m not a victim.” (12:36) While this was surely meant as a jab, she unintentionally revealed that conservatives are not usually the victims of injustice, or at least do not consider themselves so. And why would they, when they are represented so well in their government at just about every level? After all, the use of the label ‘victim’ acknowledges that injustice has occurred and harmed someone.

It’s not just conservative citizens that don’t get protest. Conservative legislators also don’t get it (or pretend not to), and they have a rather strong distaste for it as well. In 2017 alone, 16 states have proposed anti-protest legislation, according to a report released in March by the United Nations. These Republican-backed bills range from a North Dakota bill that would allow drivers to run over protestors to an amendment to an Arizona bill that would allow cops to seize the property of protestors. These are usually introduced with the intention of making sure troublemakers face consequences for their troublemaking, but this is misleading. Who doesn’t already know you can be fined for intentional obstruction of traffic? Or for trespassing on private property? Both of these things are already illegal, and protestors are certainly aware of this as they plan direct action events. More to the point, this thread of anti-protest legislation is about silencing dissent. And that is fundamentally unconstitutional and undemocratic. Even if these two bills in particular died, that does not mean that these legislators have given up. North Dakota’s governor already signed a bill into law that allows for only 20 protestors to gather in one place on public land. It would be wise to remember this as local and state elections come back around.

So for those conservative citizens who look down upon protestors: protest is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. It is a tool that provides those witnessing a protest a chance to examine their own values and actions. It is neither unpatriotic nor partisan to protest. It is ironic how protest is so associated with liberals/Left wing politics in general, while forgetting that protest makes up the early foundation of this country. Without acts of protest such as the Boston Tea Party (as done by partyless protestors), this country would not be where or what it is now. There is a reason it is listed as part of the First Amendment, before all else. It belongs to all as an intrinsic component of our Freedom of Speech. When those legislators write out those bills, they’re not just threatening liberals’ right to protest; they’re also threatening your right to protest. So use your voice before you can’t.

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