Fighting for social justice has never been pretty. People get impatient and angry. Someone always gets knocked down.
John Lewis’ beating on Bloody Sunday revealed how treacherous it was to challenge the status quo more than a half-century ago. Eighteen-year-old Miracle Boyd, who got her teeth knocked out by police during a protest in Chicago’s Grant Park a week ago, reminded us how dangerous fighting for change still is.
The injured police officers revealed the risks of standing in the way of change.
No one condones violence, regardless of who the perpetrators are. But we need to at least try to understand it.
Not their parent’s generation
It is naive to think that protests are supposed to be cordial and respectful. Most of the young people taking to the streets recently have always played by the rules, while social injustice thrived. They aren’t going to keep using a tactic that doesn’t bring about results.
Too many people have created a rosy picture in their mind of what the struggle should look like. Unfortunately, it is based on a misconception about what civil unrest actually is. It’s about hostility, disobedience and demanding to be heard.
The young people who tried to bring down the statue of Christopher Columbus aren’t like the protesters from older generations.
They don’t buy into the prevailing sentiment of their parents and grandparents that nonviolence is the best way to prove that you are worthy of the things you are fighting for.
If it takes a repeat of the 2017 Women’s March, with people carrying kids on their shoulders and wearing pink pussy hats to make you feel comfortable, then today’s social justice movement isn’t for you.
Or their grandparents
These young protesters don’t give two cents about making middle-class Americans feel good about supporting their cause. Some of them are throwing rocks and defacing property, while shielding themselves with Black umbrellas.
They don’t care if you decide that they are the villains and the police are the innocent victims. They aren’t concerned about those of you who turn your back on the movement because suddenly it has become too uncomfortable.
This youthful, multiracial movement was not inspired by promise and hope. It was born
out of anger and despair. There’s nothing nice about it.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. demanded that demonstrators, Black and white, dress up during the civil rights marches. Men wore suits and ties. Women wore dresses and heels.
If you need that in order to support this social justice movement, then tune out right now and go back to sleep.
Today’s protesters aren’t walking arm in arm singing, “We Shall Overcome.” They are playing loud music in front of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s house and singing Kirk Franklin’s “Do You Want a Revolution? Whoop! Whoop!”
The difference in the old civil rights protests and today’s is that there was a powerful leader at the helm laying out the agenda and setting the rules. While the current protests generally fall under the Black Lives Matter umbrella, they are often spontaneous and unorganized. Many aren’t officially sponsored by the BLM group.
There is no Southern Christian Leadership Conference to hold the Black Panthers at bay. And there are few, if any, young John Lewis’ who would take a blow to the head from a cop and not strike back.
Cause is not lost
Sometimes, it isn’t even clear what people are getting knocked down for.
In many ways, these protests are the antithesis of the 1960s civil rights movement, which achieved gains for a brief period that, decades later, have either disappeared or continue to be threatened.
It is understandable that the younger generation might look at the past and see a huge failure. They’re wrong, though. A lot has changed for the better, and there is much to be learned from the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for them.
Today the protesters can claim a major victory, though the reward won’t make a substantive difference down the road.
Those two statutes of Christopher Columbus are gone from the city’s landscape and they are not coming back – at least until Chicago gets a new mayor who thinks they never should have been taken down.
Change is often fleeting, whether obtained peacefully or by force. But the loudest protesters get the most attention.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.