August 13, 2017

What If Nobody Showed Up When the Far-Right Came to Town?

Lee Park, Charlottesville, VAI support the free expression of views I find objectionable, and I welcome non-violent protests even when I disagree with the reasons for the protests. As long as those protesting do not interfere with others who are not involved in the protest, I'll support their right to protest. I have been consistent in condemning violence at speeches, protests, and rallies, regardless who starts it or who commits the worst acts of violence. And so, I unequivocally condemn the recent violence at the "Unite the Right" event in Charlottesville, VA.

Now, here's a fun hypothetical for you to ponder amidst all the righteous outrage. Imagine that a horde of alt-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazi types are descending on your town in order to hold some sort of speech, protest, or rally. What do they most want? Attention. They crave media attention, but they also want a good turn-out from counter-protest groups. The more, the better. Some are looking for a fight, but almost all are hoping for a public spectacle. The angrier the counter-protesters are, the better.

What do you suppose would happen if those who were understandably inclined to counter-protest the event decided to stay home instead? Imagine the horde showing up to find no counter-protesters, no spectators, and few reporters, most of whom would leave as soon as they realized there were no counter-protesters. The horde's only audience would be the police officers who were there to keep an eye on them. Why, it would almost be as if the entire town had decided to deprive them of what they most wanted, rendering their event ineffective!

Some on the left seem to believe that if they don't show up to protest something like this that they are "part of the problem." I disagree. I suspect that it might be more problematic to keep giving the protesters what they want. Some on the left seem to think that their absence from such an event would send a signal to the nation that their community condones or even supports the protesters' agenda. If they are worried about this, they could hold a counter-protest at a different location or on a different date. How great would it be if they held one on the same date at a different location that was much better attended? It would be like Trump's inauguration all over again.

Yes, I realize that some will likely interpret this post as me "blaming the victims" or excusing the appalling behavior of the horde in Charlottesville. While this is unfortunate, I recognize that there is little more I can do than to point out that this is not the case. I do not consider the counter-protesters in Charlottesville to be responsible for the violence perpetrated against them. I do wonder about the merits of this type of counter-protest and whether not showing up might be an effective way to deprive the fire of the oxygen it needs to burn. But I do not expect that many will be willing to seriously consider such a possibility. We seem to be living in an era where many (on both the left and the right) prefer false narratives consistent with their socio-political views to asking the sort of difficult questions than might produce positive outcomes.