In 2016 Barack Obama during the 2016 American presidential election urged people “Don’t boo. Vote.” That’s often good advice.
Yet, as The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik suggested, this is a familiar approach that the established interests will not lose sleep over. They know they can handle that approach. It won’t often bring about big changes, because as Trump truthfully said, but not in the sense he was suggesting, “the game is rigged.” The entrenched interests, particularly in the United States have for decades made sure that the votes of resisters are not fairly counted. As Malik in a subsequent Guardian article said,
‘It is a familiar reproach. If you’re angry, don’t boo, don’t protest, don’t take matters into your own hands. Vote, lobby, report to the authorities, trust the process. It’s the appeal of reasonable liberals and the rebuke of rightwingers. It is the refrain that rings out when demands for justice “go too far.”
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year, entrenched interests quickly turned the attention of the public from the issues being protested to the manner of the protests. The public was widely persuaded that the issues were vandalism, destruction of property, and anarchy, not racial injustice. That was precisely the agenda of law and order of the president Donald Trump. As Malik said about the United Kingdom, but as could just as easily be said of the US,
“it’s easier to talk about the lawless mobs tearing down statues than the crimes these monuments commemorate… But this is nothing new. What we rarely hear about all the great revolutions of the past is that they too looked at first like spontaneous uprisings against the existing order – and they too were subject to charges of anarchy, reckless violence, puritanical revenge. So much so that the economist Albert Hirschman described the demand to “follow the process” as “the first reaction” whenever the threat of real change is on the horizon.”
Many people fear revolutions, not entirely without justification of course. As Marx reminded, revolutions are not conducted like Sunday schools . They are scary and the American president is an expert at magnifying the fears of the American electorate. As a result many felt he over-reacted to what were largely peaceful protests. As the mayor of Portland said, “he poured fuel on the flames.”
Ever since the French Revolution it has become easy to trigger fears at the mere suggestion of revolution. Yet, it must never be forgotten that revolutions have also brought about radical change for the good. We must remember the good and the bad. Few Americans would want to reverse anything about the American Revolution. The French celebrate the French Revolution. And both of those revolutions were unruly and even violent. As Malik said,
“The first accounts of the French revolution made no distinction between its positive and negative aspects – collapsing its moral position and its violent manifestations into one. The result was that, for a long time, it was defined and smeared by its excesses. It was only the passage of time that transformed it into “a riot blessed by history”, as Gary Younge puts it.”
Sometime you gotta boo.