I have talked a lot about this in the past. What is a valid protest? Why we should not criticise the type of non-violent protest and attempt to talk about why people are protesting. I have, in making this point, used Kim Davis’s protest against gay marriage as an example of a point I strongly disagree with but is still valid and I always get pushback.
With the recent Charlottesville clash and other things, I brought it up again. This time some points brought up against Kim Davis hit harder. I took a step back and really thought about it again. Even as I write this I am not sure if I have changed my view or not. This is in part a mental exercise putting my thoughts down on “paper” and really work through these questions. I believe it is important to be able to question your firmly held beliefs and now I’m going to struggle as publicly as I can. I welcome comments and arguments, especially on this article.
A Bit of History
Quickly on how I got here. I was a part of my local Occupy Movement protests. In discussions with those outside of that world, it would generally start and never get past the “They can’t be taking up parks, disturbing people’s lives! go home, get a job!” I had a home and a job but that didn’t matter. I hardly ever got to talk about the actual points the protest was trying to make.
After that, I hear the same points. From pipeline protests to anti-stadium protests. I would have conversations, not about the actual topic but if they should be doing that thing they were going to draw attention to a topic.
The solution to me was to say that any non-violent protest was valid. I could argue that and move on to what the point of the protest faster. To move the conversations faster with more conservative people I would use Kim Davis as an example more on “their side” to move forward the conversation.
Then when I used Kim Davis to make the valid protest argument with more liberal people they could not stand that and called Kim Davis and what she did things I will not repeat here.
Up to now I would counter with historic protests that did similar things on their side but could never crack that nut. Now I think they may be right.
Rally vs Protest
I need to make clear this difference. A rally is a well-organized event where like-minded people gather to talk about what they all agree about. No violence, specific march routes, permits, generally have port-a-potties, fliers, and street food. A rally is a celebration.
A protest is done not to talk about goals among themselves but to share their goals with those who don’t agree. It intends to disrupt the current order to make a change in that order. Usually done without permits or done beyond the limits of those permits. Designed to draw as much attention to a topic as possible. A protest is a disruption.
Kim Davis’s Actions
What Kim Davis did in response to gay marriage become legal in the USA in 2015 is what this is all about so let’s break it down. In Kentucky, a marriage license is issued in the name of the county clerk, a position that Kim Davis held.
Her beliefs against gay marriage led her a moral need to not have her name on marriage licenses of gay couples. After turning away a few gay couples and starting to draw national attention she had the office stop issuing marriage licenses altogether.
In the initial court fights the court order a temporary stay preventing her from “Applying her ‘no marriage licenses’ policy to future marriage license requests” that was upheld on appeals. Kim Davis still refused to issue any marriage licenses.
Kim was found in contempt of court and was thrown in jail. The clerk’s office started issuing marriage licenses to everyone. 5 days later Kim Davis was released from jail. when she returned to work she altered the marriage forms so they would no longer have her name on them. Courts ruled that the new forms were legal.
There was great hype on all sides over this. Much of it was false or overblown. Even though I 100% disagree with what she was fighting against, this action I called a legitimate protest.
Validity of Kim Davis’s protest
How I would argue that her protest was valid was simple. Someone would bring up a point and I would bring up an example of a similar protest, usually during the civil rights movement or the struggle for interracial marriage.
A recent example:
“What she did was literally against the law. It was not legal… She didn’t “go to court” she was found in contempt of court and sentenced. There was no trial.”
My response. “Lovings fought interracial marriage law by breaking the law, were held in contempt of court and fought it to the Supreme Court.”
If I was going to ask people on one side of an issue to ignore the protest tactics of the other side to have a discussion about what they are protesting about, I must respect the right of that side to protest in a similar way.
In the realm of protesting, she was in a unique position to make a legitimate protest against gay marriage. Kim Davis, as a County Clerk, did what she thought was right. Two years earlier some California County Clerks did the opposite thing after Prop 8 passed banning gay marriage in the state and kept issuing gay marriage licenses.
Then came Charlottesville
It was after watching what was billed as a rally to defend a statue but was in actuality a violent protest for white supremacy. After watching people getting tossed into the air by that car. After someone died because they stood against Nazis in 2017. After watching the President defend those white nationalists as “very fine people” I got angry.
I had arguments with people who were defending Nazis by proxy in the name of free speech. Free speech does not protect you from consequences from your speech. Outing white supremacists is a good practice of one’s free speech.
Them. “But the KKK guy lost his job! What about his children?”
Me. “Is teaching your kids that other races are inferior and need to die child abuse? I think so. Get the kids out of there.”
There needs to be a limit to tolerance or the intolerant will eliminate the tolerant.
Taking a knee
At this point, I had left the whole Kim Davis argument behind. It wasn’t relevant when discussing Nazis. Then the president talked about the taking of a knee at NFL games. The conversation swung back to how people protest not what people protest. I came across a meme.
I shared it even though it is not the best line up of protests. Kim Davis refused to do something that was part of their job. NFL players protest during their job but continued to do their job. I started to get people saying how she wasn’t protesting and I turned to my old arguments about it.
Then I started to question my belief
In the course of these arguments, a friend of mine went on a fairly good rant.
She was not “protesting” she was being a hateful bitch, and she got caught. …Protest is when the powerless challenge the powers that be to correct course (like Lovings). What she was doing was gate keeping. When opponents of marriage equality lose, they lose nothing. When cops shoot black people and then say they were scared, it’s not a fucking protest. When white male CEOs give promotions to their white male pals and say he earned it, it’s not a protest. When Israeli settlers throw stones at Palestinian children, it’s not a fucking protest. It’s just exercising their control over the situation to maintain their position of power. When she got caught being a shithead, others came pouring out of the woodwork to defend her, and suddenly she is doing it out of moral goodness? WTF? Was Trayvon Martin’s killer “standing up for what he believed” when he went to trail for murdering a child? No. No, he wasn’t. He was just trying to get away with it. And so was she. So don’t call it a fucking protest. She only started calling it a protest because she was in trouble for being exposed for illegal discrimination. Not. The. Same. Thing.
It really made me think. Kim Davis used her power to effectively prevent those who fought hard for a right to practice that right. Laws against racial discrimination did not end racial discrimination. Once segregation was illegal would it be a protest if a business still kept separate bathrooms for blacks? If someone were to argue that I cannot hire a black man as a protest in favor of… what? White supremacy. Would I consider that valid? Would refusing a marriage license to an interracial couple on religious grounds be a legitimate protest?
As I read again what my friend wrote she is right. That was my initial reaction when I read it too. I had to take time to think about it. My mind drifted to what would be a “Legitimate Protest” for the other side.
Not living the injustice
Sometimes I forget that I am coming at these things as a straight white male. While I fight for racial justice, woman’s rights, for LGBT rights and other causes, I cannot know their struggles like they do.
When I go home, I get to go home without worrying about a cop stopping me because I’m black. I don’t worry about what route I take home to avoid being harassed because I’m a woman. I don’t worry about getting assault because I might pass as straight or the gender I am. It is not a constant presence in my life and I can just be. I wish everyone could just be.
What is a legitimate protest?
To that question, I do not know. What I do know I will not be using Kim Davis as an example of a legitimate protest. I, in all likelihood, will stop using the term altogether.
As I worked through writing this, some of the things I thought would be important turned out not to be. I will leave it all in as evidence of the process. If we are not open to considering that we are wrong how can we convince others to change their mind?