Why nonviolence alone punctures the silence

Since the first discussion among activists in August about protesting at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, violence has apparently been on the table. Puncture the Silence, a relatively new local CLE group advocating against mass incarceration and the many injustices of America’s criminal justice system, proves nonviolence works better, in every single way. Let’s count them.

1. No shiny objects distracted from the message.

All CLE 5pm TV newscasts went live to helicopter coverage of the protest shutting down the Shoreway, then stayed there for the 6pm broadcast. They were not talking about a brick being thrown, or a car being lit on fire. Had there been such a shiny object, which media love to chase, their cameras trained to zoom in nice and close on a flame, or a fight, that’s what would have been on live television, that would have been the conversation.


2. Police actually helped the protest.


Protestors were escorted by police into the highway so protestors could BREAK THE LAW and stand in the middle of a highway. UPDATE: PTS responded to us on Twitter “protestors were not “escorted by police into the highway.” They had to break through the police car/horse block.” This was the critical moment, forcing police to make a decision to either halt the protest, and make arrests, or let it continue. Police chose to let the protest into the Shoreway at that point.

Police kept drivers near the protestors calm. Live TV explained the police escort as protecting the protestors’ rights to be heard. Though they certainly could have, police did not arrest anyone for standing in the middle of the Shoreway or Public Square. Many activists would call this being “coopted” by coordination with the enemy (the cops), but average folks, whose support is required for there to be any meaningful change, saw this as a warm fuzzy moment. That is extraordinarily powerful.

3. Live TV coverage was glowing.


Every TV news reporter on live air was complementary of the protestors, comparing the peaceful demonstration to the explosion of violence in Ferguson, giving CLE a big pat on the back. Might have sounded paternalistic and patronizing, but no amount of money can pay for that kind of PR. When the protestors announced they would leave the Shoreway at 5:30pm, TV news waited to see if it would happen. Then it did, right on schedule. Reporters glowed with CLE pride some more. Every reporter wondered “where are they going next?”, even had a little glint in their voice hoping the protestors would shut down another highway. When the protestors marched past the Justice Center, reporters actually said people inside the jail were banging on the windows in support. The average viewer found themselves cheering the protestors on to do it again.

4. Massive disruption ensued.

In the middle of rush hour. It’s unclear whether this highway shutdown tactic was coordinated nationally in all the other cities where protestors did the same, or if shutting down highways spontaneously became the go to move, but all over the country, outrage over Ferguson, and in CLE over the police murder of Tamir Rice, disrupted routines. The silence was punctured.


5. A conversation began.

Even before any media coverage began, this single protest inserted Tamir Rice and Mike Brown into thousands of cars stuck in traffic. Angry motorists were all over social media complaining, and supporters of the protests were talking back. People who would never dare to discuss racial injustice were forced to, whether they wanted to or not. Protestors gave their supporters all the ammo they need in that conversation, and no ammo to the angry motorists, because no one got hurt, no property was on fire, and the only cost to motorists was an hour or two of delay.

That’s how you make change through nonviolent civil disobedience. Sometimes, no one even gets arrested. One thrown brick would have made all of it impossible. Think about that.

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