By: Hillel Golubtchik  | 

Unpack With YUPAC: BLM, January 6, and Judicial Reform: The Ineffectiveness of Modern Protest

There is no denying that protest is a significant factor in the arc of world history. For centuries, many significant movements and revolutions were sparked through protests, rallies or strikes. Organized protests are met with different levels of government resistance around the world. In Paris, for instance, protests concerning the national retirement age swiftly turned violent, leading to full-blown clashes between law enforcement officers and citizens. In contrast, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects one’s right to assemble and express their views through protest. Through this protection, protests have become frequent in America and play a significant role in political culture.

Unfortunately, over time, the determination and meaning that once inspired protesters has become severely diluted. Where people once attended protests with a real, concrete goal in mind, protests have now become just another form of meaningless politics in which people engage because they feel like it. Nowadays, people attend protests without comprehending the cause they are supporting, solely because it aligns with their political affiliation. In my opinion, this phenomenon has infiltrated the political landscape of Israel, most notably during the judicial reform protests (both against and for). To compare the protests nowadays with their authentic predecessors, it is worthwhile to examine one of the most successful protests of all time: the Civil Rights Movement.

On Dec. 1, 1955, the trajectory of American History was forever altered. Rosa Parks boarded a bus in the segregated town of Montgomery, Alabama, and took a seat in the center section, an area where both Black and white passengers were able to sit. As the bus filled up, Parks remained seated even though there were white passengers standing, resulting in her unjust arrest. Four days later, with the leadership of E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King Junior, the black community of Montgomery demanded change. This call to action triggered a weeks-long boycott of the Montgomery bus system from all Black citizens. Later that day, over 500 individuals crowded the courthouse when Parks was given a guilty verdict by a white judge, making their voices heard. However, the key factor that set this protest aside from the rest occurred almost two months later.

As the civil rights movement gained traction, tensions between the white and Black citizens grew. On January 30, 1956, while Martin Luther King Jr. was preaching in church, a bomb exploded in his house with his wife and daughter inside. Hundreds of Black individuals greeted Mr. King when he arrived at his home, grateful to see that his wife and daughter were unharmed. Soon after, when (white) policemen arrived at the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd, tensions escalated, and a full-blown riot seemed imminent. Sensing danger, Mr. King addressed the crowd, telling them to stop and remain calm. With everybody’s attention on him, he proclaimed, “Don’t do anything panicky. Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us.” Heeding Mr. King’s call, the night ended without any violence. This nonviolent approach to the protest was crucial in sustaining the Civil Rights Movement, making it a major catalyst for change.

Modern protests have little resemblance to the movements that occurred almost 70 years ago. In order to best understand this shift, we can examine two significant events from the past three years: The Black Lives Matter movement and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. While these incidents differ in many ways, they both exemplify the issue of thoughtless protest. In May 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, thousands took to the streets. While some participated in peaceful, meaningful protests, a significant number of individuals had a different agenda. Some took part in the rampant looting and rioting, while many others joined protests simply so they had a reason to escape the COVID-19 lockdown. For many, these protests in no way resembled those of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, lacking depth and significance To strengthen this point, a friend of mine participated in one of the Black Lives Matter marches, and he was raising his fist in the air, the main sign of the protest. The only problem was that he was lifting his left fist; the correct stance was to raise your right fist. This caused another protester to scream out, “Wrong hand, Jew!” This friend of mine was, quite literally, not protesting correctly. 

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, we observe similar motivations, or the lack thereof, driving the Capitol riot. A first of its kind, it exemplified reckless and impulsive actions. For whatever reason, over 2,000 people felt it was appropriate to act in this way solely because of their political stance. It wasn’t meaningful, and it certainly was not nonviolent; in no way did this act resemble what a productive protest looks like. While there are many other examples, these two incidents signify the evolving nature of how and why people protest in the 21st century.

If you’ve visited Israel recently chances are you have heard Britney Spears’ “Oops!... I Did it Again” blasting from your taxi driver’s radio or come across 2010 American fashion trends in Israeli designer stores. While this may seem exaggerated, the fact remains that Israel has always been a few years behind the United States in many areas, technology aside. The same applies to the nature of protest in the country. In the past few months, hundreds of thousands of left-wings Israelis gathered weekly to protest certain laws — known as the Judicial Reforms — being pushed by Netanyahu’s government. These protests quickly escalated into violent and disruptive events, to the point where demonstrators started a fire on the Ayalon highway. These protests closely resemble the thoughtless nature that was exhibited during the BLM protest and Capitol riot in that people acted thoughtlessly and recklessly. For many, the protests were nothing more than a demonstration of hatred against Netanyahu. Furthermore, when Netanyahu agreed to halt the judicial reform, right-wing Israelis staged mass protests in support of the proposed reforms. This back-and-forth proves that, like in the United States, people in Israel are protesting simply because they have been instructed to do so by their political party, not because they have something meaningful to stand up for. In my opinion, Israel is following America’s lead in a process that is damaging to the political process. 

Much of the information in this article on the Civil Rights Movement comes from a book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.

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Photo Caption: Protests have become rote, meaningless political expression

Photo Credit: @dudewithsign on Instagram