Are Counter Protests Missing The Point?

Photograph by Steve Helber

I’m the kind of person that loves conflict, and confrontation, and disagreement because I think that it is one of the best ways to uncover and discover deeper truths that neither side of a conflict are actually communicating.  When X debates Y – rarely is the truth X or Y, it’s almost always Z.   Though I usually try and take the side of X or Y, or whatever side is losing, so that I can find Z and you can’t take the side of Z in an argument because it is usually interpreted as a red herring.

The issue I see with the current state of affairs in North America right now with the alt-right protests and their and counter-protests is the focus on X and Y and their actual belief in the moral superiority of their side.  As if a protest itself can encapsulate a side so succinctly that rightness or wrongness can be helpful categories.

Reading the news about these conflicts is even worse.  All emanating from one photo, or one person’s comments, we are given an extremely limited view of X and something very concise to establish firmly in Y.  Knowing that a Nazi chant was voiced in Charlottesville is all we need to know to feel like we are understand everything there is to know about every person who showed up and what our stance is towards that entire group.

“Those are Nazi’s over there, and we aren’t anti-Nazi, so I’m going to go show up with larger numbers to fight these Nazis because that is the right thing to do.”  That seems to be the sentiment of the folks that are showing up to counter these kinds of folks.  So the counter-protesters show up in greater numbers, scare off the wrong protesters and then us right protesters feel like we accomplished some good in the world.

I’d rather see us treat white nationalism like our society treats street preachers.  Street Preacher’s feed off conflict and are inspired by being opposed.  When they are ignored or engaged with creatively, they eventually go away.  They harm people and they represent a brutal side of a oppressive religion, however to treat them like they are the enemy and we are the heroes where we feel superior by showing up and protesting their presence seems to reinforce all the wrong parts of this conflict and cause the conflict to increase rather than uncovering the actual problems.  I do not see how anti-street preacher protests would ever lead to any sort of positive outcome.  Do you?  Is it the same for anti-Nazi rallies?

So again, I love conflict, but only because of the end game, and I’m very confused at what the end game is right now for this kind of conflict.  It can’t really be just to send a message that the countries we live in are not racist is it?  Am I missing something?

8 Comments

  • “Nazism was not defeated by being ignored. And slavery and the Confederacy were not ignored. They were not reasoned with or defeated with rational arguments because they were not rational structures. They were material forces and they were defeated by material forces. In other words, by resistance, by struggle, by war, by battles.”
    Quote from George Ciccariello-Maher in the following interview (which you should read):
    https://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2017/08/26/what-is-antifa-an-activist-and-scholar-of-the-movement-explains/

  • I have read this actually. It was good. George Ciccariello-Maher voice has been one I’ve been following closely.

    I was careful to say “ignored or engaged with creatively” – as I am not saying they should not be engaged with or that they should not be resisted. I’m questioning the tactics of resistance of these counter-protests and if they are doing anything more than solidifying the position of that which they are opposing.

    • How do you solidify the position you’re opposing by counter-protesting it? The counter-protesters’ end game is to let the white supremacists know that they can’t gather and spew their message of hate without a response. The point is to dissuade them from doing it again or they will continually be drowned out or shut down by a louder voice. The Nazis/white supremacists come armed to the teeth to their demonstrations while police stand idly by and apparently ignore the violence they commit. If they were BLM supporters then we know the police would have acted very differently if they had all those weapons. Like it was mentioned in the article, antifa don’t trust police or the government to shut this shit down so they do it themselves. They may never reach their end game but I think it’s important that they still keep fighting and exposing the hate over and over again.

      • Primarily because there is no conversation in protest, it’s just two somewhat ambiguous sides. I think tactically it would be way more effective to create a spectacle that hijacks the media attention towards shaming them or something entirely different. This is why I like the antifa’s approach much better as it changes the game entirely then just being louder and bigger. A counter-protest gives just as much of a platform to what they are countering, so i’m not sure it in and of itself is working towards what they want.

  • “How do you solidify the position you’re opposing by counter-protesting it?”

    It happens easily.
    Counter protests have even been deliberately incited to boost ticket sales of movies being protested.
    You provide fuel to those that actually don’t care about the opinions of your counter protesters and they will use the counter-protest to build a narrative of they in fact are the oppressed.
    No one is ever drowned out in our modern world, there are simply too many avenues to share their hate and imagining that is an accomplishment is fooling oneself.

    The goal of any protest, counter or not, should be to prevent or shrink participation in what is being protested. If the results instead are more interest in, or a rallying to what was being protested, then the protest has failed miserably.

    The Nazi party rose to power in Germany on the strength of the narrative they were able to build based on how Germany was handled after the Great War and the lives that Germans were leading. To the German populace it was indeed a rational ideology just not a good one or even the most rational one.
    It would have been infinitely better if people would have looked at what was happening and opposed it with better ideology in 1934 than waiting to fight it out in 1939.
    It’s not 1939, it’s 1934 and we need to offer something better than just another war and hope we win again.

  • One of the main purposes for protesting something is to bring attention to it. You protest a piece of legislation because you think everyone needs to know about it and convince them why it shouldn’t be passed. You protest the construction of a pipeline because you think everyone needs to know about it and convince them it’s going to harm the environment and the people on it.
    The white supremacists/Nazis were protesting the removal of a confederate statue in Charlottesville so anti-racism groups responded with a counter-protest supporting the removal of the statue and countering the message of hate. Protesters along with antifa are continuing this fight various ways, which I think is necessary. The goal is to limit the platforms and forums fascists have to spread their fascist ideas and to mobilize. We’ve seen hate groups removed from various online platforms and left scrambling to find a home. The people who gather in those groups and chat rooms are more likely to gather in the streets if they know they can do it unopposed. The current US administration has given them the confidence to mobilize large groups in public. The counter-protests are necessary to show them that they will be opposed and exposed, which will make the online Nazis think twice about being a street Nazi. They are easy to scare.

  • I’m going to edit my last sentence in my last post. They are easy to scare because they are scared. Scared of being “replaced”. Scared of losing everything because they have everything. That will never happen to them. It’s irrational to think that will happen. Changing their minds is near impossible. They want to be the superior race, they believe they have a right to be the superior and perhaps only race. You cannot give them hope that they will get what they want. We’ve shown them a better ideology and they won’t accept it. I think it’s perfectly within reason to not accept them and make them return to the swamps they crawled out from.

  • Candace, you’re making some great points on how protests can raise awareness and can bring attention to things that might slip past people that would otherwise oppose them.

    If there’s a protest showing support for leaving something in place and an even larger counter-protest shows up to support the removal then the message sent to political leaders is that the counter protest is more aligned to how the people actually feel. That’s great.

    How does that fit in with antifa style clashes between protesters and counter-protesters?
    There’s no awareness raising there. Nazis and White Supremacists are bad and pretty much everyone that isn’t already one agrees on that. These groups are scared and they feed off of scared people. Wouldn’t taking action to reduce fear starve them of the grist they need to recruit scared confused people? Wouldn’t violent clashes increase their fear and allow them to support their recruitment even further?

    I definitely want to oppose them, but I want to oppose them in a way that decreases them, not increases them.

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