Protests are one of the many ways that people can use their power to influence government and institutions. They can take many different forms, depending on the circumstances and type of oppression involved, the change the people want to see, and the authority with the power to make it happen, which can be the government, an individual, or a corporation. Direct action, also known as nonviolent protests, can morph into violent marches, which can be productive or ineffective depending on the situation (Dugan, 101). Either way, whether it is applied in the present day protests like Black Lives Matter or Gandhi’s fight for independence, activists are questioning the most effective form of objection. Some argue that violence is necessary for people to experience political change, as rulers never give up power without a struggle (Sharp, 659). As a result, this paper will focus on the effectiveness of direct action protests as a way of making a social and political change, and why activist should use it.
Direct action protest is a form of participatory democracy where people represent themselves. It includes stronger actions that boycott actions that benefit institutions, individuals or government, such as, go-slows, sit-ins, and boycotts. In this form of demonstration, the activists make decisions which bring social change through their efforts. Non-violent protest has played a significant role in shaping societies, making it a productive tool that should be used across the world to advocate for both political and social changes. More people are joining peaceful movements such as those that call for the equal treatment of black lives, and these nonviolent acts are working and leading to meaningful systemic change.
History shows that nonviolent protest is more efficient than the violent movements as prominent activists achieved their political and social changes by implementing it. For example, Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the US civil rights movement, through the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, used nonviolent action efficiently against racism and the unjust society (Ansbro, 16). He led a group of over 200,000 supporters to demonstrate against racial inequalities, which led to his speech ‘I Have a Dream’, after which he met with the president JFK in a discussion to remedy the issue (Gregg, 50). Another successful peaceful protest led by Martin Luther King is the Montgomery bus boycott, a campaign against racial segregation in Montgomery public transit. The demonstration was a reaction to the arrest of an African American for not giving up her seat to a white person. Direct protest approach applied and African Americans boycotted the transit system. The method proved useful after the transit experienced a deficit prompting the intervention of the White Citizens Council. The federal court eventually termed the segregation as unconstitutional. The success of this form of demonstration is attainable through its strategic approach to peace, unlike the armed uprising that results in death. The two legends, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, are the most well-known nonviolent activists. Direct action protest proved productive due to the success of the American Civil Rights Movement that succeeded in the fight for equality and discrimination. It is therefore apparent that the nonviolent protest approach is the way to deal with issues that require social change.
Research conducted on the effectiveness of nonviolent protest additionally indicate its effectiveness. According to study by Stephan and Chenoweth, senior fellows from the US Institute of Peace and Atlantic Council respectively, the nonviolent direct action was successful 46% of the time. The figure is more than twice the 20% success rate achieved by the use of violent means (Sharp, 657). The success of the direct action protests is illustrated in the fact that they have a stronger tendency to result in democracy and peace. Furthermore, Princeton University research indicates that nonviolent movements in the 1960s led to higher number of votes from the whites in support of the Democrats that supported civil rights. This figure is contrary to the use of violent protest that showed increasing racism and support for the Republican candidates which significantly influenced the 1968 Richard Nixon elections (Sharp, 657).
Conversely, the use of violent protests has not been fruitful as most of them rarely achieve their desired objectives. An example of such violent mass action is the Anti Trump demonstrations, which led to the destruction of property and did not result in the ousting of Donald Trump. Instead, officers from the Portland area had to disperse the demonstrators after they turned violent. They also had to make some arrests, and as some demonstrators were reported to be armed, the police had to use pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber projections to disperse them. In response, the president appreciated their passion for the love of their country. His remainder in power is an indication that violent protests are ineffective.
In conclusion, protests are a demonstration of the power of expression that ordinary people have, though through peaceful demonstrations. The method has proven to provide better results, unlike the violent approach. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are highlights of how the direct action approach is productive, as they effectively brought about the social and political situations they desired. As such, activists should continue using the direct action approach to protest to bring the social and political changes they desire.
Ansbro, John J. Martin Luther King, Jr: Nonviolent Strategies and Tactics for Social Change. Madison Books, 2000.pp 16-18
Dugan, Máire A.. “Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 pp101
Gregg, Richard B. The Power of Nonviolence. The Rev. Ed. Nyack, NY: Fellowship Publications, 1959, p. 50.
Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973, p. 657.