When a protest occurs, the reaction from media outlets, political figures and residents across the country seems to boil down to these three questions.
Who is allowed to protest? What are acceptable issues to protest? What actions are acceptable during a protest?
Most Americans aren’t likely to agree on the answers to these questions, but we’re hopeful that most people can agree about Wednesday’s assault on our nation’s Capitol.
It was not a protest.
It was an attack on our democracy.
Led by President Donald Trump’s false and hateful rhetoric in recent weeks, rioters stormed the Capitol to protest Joe Biden’s victory in November. They broke windows and caused property damage; they stole objects from inside the building; they even took down the American Flag and hung a pro-Trump flag in its place.
Oh, and five people died during the riots, including a police officer.
There is no debate. There is no discussion needed.
What happened was absolutely embarrassing. It was sickening. It was infuriating.
There are plenty of things worthy of protesting — racial justice, growing income inequality and unaffordable healthcare are some of the issues that come to mind. What the rioters were protesting is not on that list. They were protesting the results of a free and fair election at the beckoning of a lame duck president who didn’t get his way.
Some protests force us collectively as a society to reconsider our own thoughts and actions, to look inward and consider self improvement. The Black Lives Matters protests last year were impactful because they forced us to consider whether we were doing our part as a society to ensure Black people and marginalized groups weren’t being mistreated.
Usually, discussion regarding a certain protest turns into whether the level of peacefulness of the protest determines the validity of the message or the impact of its execution.
Wednesday’s riots were not peaceful, but definitely impactful, although not in the ways that force a society towards better thinking. It’s hard to accomplish this if the protest is founded on certifiably false proclamations and if those proclamations lead to the deaths of five people.
Ultimately, Wednesday’s events take us back to the original questions asked above. It’s unlikely the riots will inch us closer to collective agreement on how protests should look.
Hopefully we now know how they shouldn’t.