Do Violent Protests Work?

mr317
Monday 8 January 2024

Khandaker, Tamara, host. Wait, There’s More (podcast). June 2020. https://open.spotify.com/episode/5pcPQnpnQBaxvjRi679Ozx?si=a8ecae5588af48fb.

This podcast, recorded at the height of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the USA, discusses the merits and limitations of violent protests – past and present – as a transitory means of achieving justice and equitable peace. The interviewee, Omar Wasow, academic and co-founder of Blackplanet.com, was a professor at Princeton University at the time of recording and is now an assistant professor at UC Berkeley. This episode is pragmatic: it does not debate the philosophical argument of whether violence is a morally righteous reaction under a given set of circumstances, instead it covers the proven impacts of violent protest on a larger cause. Since the dawn of TV (coinciding with the civil rights movement of the 1960s), one of the goals of protests and demonstrations has been to attract the media. Wasow asserts that violence is inarguably an amplifier of the amount of media coverage a protest gets, and that because, proportionally, very few people actually witness a protest, media coverage matters. Whether a violent protest causes the general public to lose empathy for the larger cause depends on the language of the media – Wasow explores under what conditions the media uses “resistance,” versus when they use “crime,” to describe comparable violent protests.

This contribution to the Visualising Peace Library is not an attempt to advocate for violence as a peacebuilding method, but as a realistic acknowledgement that violent resistance is one mechanism that grassroots movements can, and do, use in the face of systemic oppression and state-sanctioned violence. This podcast was particularly interesting to me as it offered an alternative perspective to the vast majority of my research (which generally only acknowledges nonviolent civil disobedience as an effective means of peacebuilding), and connected to the influence of journalism on peacebuilding.

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