Peaceful protest. This is the primary goal of some history’s most influential leaders. Gandhi, MLK, Thoreau, Mandela. These people, and many more used non-violent methods to have their voice heard. Peaceful protest is a tool that has been used to promote Civil Rights, reform, and even just to voice concern.
Now, before I continue, the goal of this piece is not to support or endorse any political party, viewpoint, or narrative, simply to present the idea of peaceful protest.
Enter: the election of 2016. Since the beginning, this election was riddled with controversy and frustration among all parties. No election in recent history, or at the very least for this new generation of voters – mainly millennials – has been so polarizing. This is very likely a result of the fact that the Democratic and Republican nominees, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, held their own set of beliefs, many of which leaned extremely to the left in the case of Hilary Clinton, and the right for Trump. So, it’s not a surprise, that when the time came for the American people to vote upon the presidential candidates and receive the results, there was bound to be some form of a negative emotional response amongst the losing side.
Now, initially, this response took the form of great sadness amongst the supporters of many independent parties and obviously democratic party. Not only was there great sadness, but anger. This anger materialized into what many, including Portland Police (CNN, 2016) called riots. It is not uncommon for this type of response to take place following a significant event such as this. But, after the initial frustration of the election, people began to abandon their confusion and put it into something more constructive. In particular, and the focus of this specific presentation, the estimated 8,000 people peaceful march from MacArthur park to the Edward Roybal Federal Building. This march, organized mainly by Union del Barrio was set to be a “peaceful expression of our freedom of speech,” according to an event organizer, and indeed it was.
Now, in the midst of the nation, and even worldwide tension, it was not unnatural for me to have some skepticism as to how peaceful this march would be. As seen with the protests before, things could turn bad at any time. But, my number one hope was to be witness to a massive and peaceful march.
As I arrived at MacArthur park, I felt no tension in the air, only a sense of union. The thousands of people attending this march were all there for one general purpose, to have their voice be heard, to express their beliefs. Now, the form of expression or the specific viewpoint of each individual protestor was variable. Some marched for women’s rights, others for the protection of immigrants, but the general purpose was clear. Everyone had something to say.
The beauty of this is that each person there knew that the most powerful way they could make their point clear was through peace. The nation has seen enough violence in its history and in fighting conflict or an opposing view, it is not in one’s best interest to fight fire with fire. As MLK said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If we expect to bring about some form of change, we cannot do so by exercising the means which we fight to expel.
So, on we marched for about 3 miles through the streets of downtown LA. The mood of the crowd was one of fellowship. Marchers shared common beliefs and expressed them together, through chants, music, and the protest as a whole.
What furthered my amazement was the reaction of onlookers. People standing on the side of the street or on their balconies waved on in support. Even the drivers who had to stop and wait for the thousands of protesters to move past them cheered and honked in approval. It was as if everyone had the exact same thought in mind and saw no reason to cause conflict.
While law enforcement was present all along the march route, an obvious precaution and one I don’t disapprove of, there was no need. The march continued and ended up being completely peaceful.
As we arrived at the Federal Building, marking the end of the march’s path, protestors gathered. The organizers gave speeches, and eventually, the crowds dispersed. Marching, peacefully as ever, back to MacArthur Park.
So, what can be take away from this event? Obviously, this was one of many protests occurring that week. And in recent history, not the largest protest to stem from the 2016 election. But, what is amazing and beautiful is that, during this protest, not one act of vandalism took place, not one arrest was made, and not one act of violence occurred.
Acts of non-violence are arguably the most powerful tool in solving problems. From choosing to work out a dispute using your words not your fists, to fighting for civil rights, choosing a path of peace certainly yields a more significant result than the violent alternative. Although the history of man has had its fair share of wars, these conflicts have never produced a permanent solution, it is the negotiation, the peaceful alternative, that generates the most reasonable resolutions. As MLK said, to quote him once more, “Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.” The power to exercise freedom of speech lies in how one utilizes such a tool. Whether to voice a concern or promote change, the most powerful instrument of change is peace.