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By J. Pharoah Doss



Thursday, January 1, 2015.


Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”  Douglass’ demand was specific, the abolishment of slavery.  The movement to end slavery even named themselves after their demand.  They were called abolitionist. What are the specific demands of modern protesters?  


            I remember during the Bush administration I asked an anti-war demonstrator, “Why are you protesting the war?”

            He said, “Because the president lied.”    

            During the occupy Wall Street movement I met a participant.  I asked the young lady, “What exactly are you protesting?”

            She said, “Corporate greed.”


            After a white police officer was not indicted by a grand jury for killing an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri there was a rally in my home town of Pittsburgh.  The protesters carried signs that read:  Black Lives Matter and People of Color Deserve Equality.  The one sign that actually stated a demand said: Stop Racist Police Terror.


            What are these modern protesters asking power to abolish?  More importantly does the power being protested have the power to abolish or change the circumstances?

            Lying and greed are subjective matters of morality.  Congressional staffers and elected officials assembled on the capital steps with their hands up.  Their reason was to show solidarity with those protesting death caused by the police.  But the only thing hands up can symbolize from elected officials and their staff is that they’re powerless to legislate morality.

            The signs held by those protesting the grand jury decision made basic statements no civilized person would oppose.  Of course black lives matter, of course people of color deserve equality, and who would not oppose the concept of racist police terror?  But stopping racist … fill in the blank is not a demand that can be rectified by those in power.  Power has limits.   Racism is a belief in superiority.  It can be held by any race.  Holding this belief is a problem for the holder alone.  It becomes a social problem when the holder puts this belief into practice and discriminates against specific groups.  But the government has already legislated against discrimination.


            So what is the purpose of modern protest?


            According to the editorial board of The Gazette, Western’s Daily Student Newspaper, the purpose of protest … in all of its various forms, has the same goal --

To create awareness of an issue.


            Really?  I don’t think Douglass and the abolitionist sought to create awareness of the institution of slavery.


            Protest is defined by Dictionary.com as: An expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid.


            When Trayvon Martin, a black teen, was shot and killed by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida the police did not arrest the volunteer.  People protested across the country.  But they weren't raising awarness of neighborhood watch violence or racial profiling.  They demanded the arrest of the shooter.  As demonstration grew, the demand grew, and power conceded.  The shooter was arrested and tried for second degree murder.


            Too often modern protests generalize grievances government can not legislate and corporate policy can not regulate.  They mistake activity for activism.  They painfully demonstrate a collective powerlessness that the powerful are fully aware of without a public display.  And if Frederick Douglass could address modern protesters he might say, “Protest conveys nothing to power without a specific demand.”


J. Pharoah Doss attended Geneva College.  His writing has appeared in The New Pittsburgh Courier, The Commonline Joural, and Gutter Eloquence Magazine.  He blogs at http://jpharoahdoss.blogspot.com






Protest Conveys Nothing Without A Demand

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