The power of mobs is intoxicating. Be it political outrage, sports fandom, or just a mosh pit, the power of a mob is overwhelming. People with the best of intentions change when they are shoulder to shoulder screaming. When a group of humans is so close that people’s feet don’t touch the ground, when people get trampled, when cars get flipped — we have a primal “thing” for that.
Over the coming days you’ll hear people “tsk tsk” the violence of political protests like #Ferguson as if it were something new and outrageous.
There was Rodney King in the 90's.
The race riots across america of the 60's.
We have a long history of protests turning into riots. Heard of the Boston Tea Party? Can you imagine the same with a modern media landscape?
A little known fact: The idea of a police force was actually introduced to the United States in 1833 to control protests. With the industrial revolution happening in real time, the economy was a roller coaster. A long tradition of protests was the accepted norm. A group protesting unemployment in Philadelphia got particularly out of hand, and the mayor had no recourse but to call in the national army. They came in with cavalry and the whole shebang. The protesters pulled cannons off of boats in the harbor. Both parties proceeded to exchange artillery fire in the streets of Philly for the rest of the day.
After the smoke settled, the mayor created the first standing municipal army to keep these regular protests from getting out of hand. Later on they added the “while you’re out there feel free to ‘serve and protect’ if you have a moment” bits.
It’s not like it’s just us either. If you’re not familiar with the French or English revolutions, go revel in this amazing podcast. People died, lots of ‘em. They killed a king, chased another one up a tree, and guillotined off a lot of heads. What’d you get out of these crazy violent protests? Better laws, better countries, better lives.
Embracing hard truths sucks. Whatever change you’re going through, often you know it is right because it does hurt so much. Is burning cop cars, looting stores, and setting fire to chain restaurants worse than lining up in brightly colored outfits and shooting one another? Who are we to say?
Is what happened to that boy in Ferguson okay? I don’t think so at all, but I wasn’t there. Best tweet I’ve seen tonight is:
“White privilege is the ability to be outraged by the #Ferguson decision, rather than terrified by it.”
I would never talk back to, walk away from, or strong arm cops in anyway. I would expect a severe reaction if I did. I frankly have no idea what happened that day. However much you’ve watched and read, my bet is you know you don’t know either.
What I do know is even with a black president we have a long way to go before things are anywhere near to ‘even-steven’ between all races and genders in the world and this country.
When people get this outraged together, they are working from a deep complex emotional well. The event is a cathartic release for the injustice that has defined their existence in so many ways. It’s not our job to criticize their lack of interest in non-violent protests. It’s not our job to second guess the court’s decision, or even wonder what really happened that day at this point.
It is our job to empathize with people of different colors and genders around us about the society we have all created together, and do our best to make it great for all.
Changing society happens by individuals having conversations and making small individual decisions in their days. Just as that mob started with 25 people standing around and swelled into thousands, our world changes because we force it to.
We look to the young to throw gas on the fire of progress, because they are young. They flip cars and break windows because it does feel amazing to be in a huge crowd of people in agreement. We’re social creatures, we were built to do this. It’s our thing. We act it out in the streets, we play it out in the board rooms and council chambers.
The world does change, and typically for the better. By any quantifiable measure there’s no better time to live in history than now. Much of that is because of angry mobs of young people screaming for the way thing should be, instead of the way they are.
Do them the honor of listening for their deeper pain instead of judging their immediate actions. It’s not their job to be well behaved or have coherent answers.
That’s your job, reader.