How Protest Can Lead to Political Stalemate

It is the right of every citizen to protest if he or she desires, but how often is protest effective?

In my last post, I discussed the controversy over the recent NFL protests and the president’s statements regarding it. I said that my opinions on the protest didn’t matter because it’s everyone’s right to protest. Regardless of whether I support their cause, they shouldn’t be forced to stop kneeling. That would be censorship and a direct infringement of their freedom of speech.

Here’s part two. Should these football players be protesting? I’ve established that I think the players can and may protest without interruption, but I don’t necessarily think that it will generate the effects they’re looking for. These protesters have stated that they don’t wish to disrespect their country, and that kneeling was meant to be a symbol of respect comparable to flying a flag at half-mast. In doing this, they hope to raise awareness for racial injustice in the United States.

Before I discuss why I don’t think this is effective, let me emphasize: I completely support their cause. Far too many people of color (and people in general) have been killed through police violence. Something needs to be done about this, whether it be through a change in policy, bias testing, or by locking up guns unless there is a violent crime. I don’t know what would be the most effective solution, but something needs to be done. Will these protests lead to any sufficient change, though?

I see two main problems with these protests, both of which hinder their own goals.

First, there is no clear goal in mind. The women’s march had the same problem. Many people protested, but it was unclear what these women were fighting for. No one really knew what they were trying to accomplish, and so (less than a year later) these marches have little lasting impact. I’m afraid that these protests will probably have a similar result. We know that these football players want less police-on-minority violence, but what exactly is their goal? At what point will there be little enough violence that their protest will end? Most likely, they’ll just continue doing this until they’re too bored, embarrassed, or scared to continue. Either football managers intimidate them into stopping, or this will go on until the news stops reporting on it and no one notices anymore. Either way, it’s a loss for these players because they have no finite goal that they can achieve through these protests.

Second, Americans have misinterpreted their goal so completely that their protest has lost meaning. Though players originally meant to kneel as a show of respect for lost lives, that’s not how conservatives interpreted it. More traditional Americans only see a group of people trying to spit on their time-honored traditions, and spitting on time-honored traditions will not convince people to support your movement. In this case, it doesn’t matter what their goal was, because that’s not how people on the right interpreted it. At this point, both sides are talking past each other, which will accomplish absolutely nothing.

So, although I support their cause, I think it would be best if these players simply ceased protesting. There’s no viable way for them to win this debate when they’re stuck in a stalemate, and they’d really be best trying to focus their efforts off-field, where they can use their voices to persuade others.