Making Change Impossible


Conservatives and liberals must remember that, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This is vitally important. In the United States for decades the America right wing has  worked with tireless diligence to suppress the vote of the disadvantaged. And they have been remarkably successful. They persuaded the American Supreme Court that voter suppression was no longer a serious issue despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Both Democrats and Republicans have worked tirelessly to gerrymander voting districts so the votes of those opposed to their interests were given less effective weight than those who supported them. Both parties have demonstrated a strong distaste for real democracy. Both want obedient voters. They want to choose their voters, rather than have the voters choose them.

As a result when liberals or conservative urge protesters to rely on the ballot box for change their arguments are understandably often met with disdain by the rebels. Republicans in particular have worked hard to make sure that the rebel  votes will be ineffective, leaving the rebels with no reasonable alternative other than rebellion that might turn unruly or worse.

That is why Martin Luther King reminded American whites that because they went too far they had created the situation were violent protest was almost inevitable. Although King was a remarkable advocate for peaceful protest he realized that white American had given the impression that power would never be shared and this impression was dangerous because it undercut those who urged peaceful protest. For years he had warned that the whites were making peaceful change impossible and that they would pay a huge price for that intransigence.

In 1966 King told Mike Wallace, “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro…I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

In the following years King expanded on this important idea when he made a speech at Stanford University:

“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

We have to remember that these sentiments apply not just to African-Americans but all people of colour in all countries. They apply as well African-Canadians and Indigenous Canadians. We heard the same arguments from Canadian conservatives who were opposed to indigenous blockades. In fact, these sentiments apply to all victims of injustice everywhere.


Who is really responsible for the violent protests?

Where the majority has made peaceful change impossible they become the parents of the violent change they claim not to want.

One thought on “Making Change Impossible

  1. sir

    resistance whether in the form of riot or revolution can have an ambiguous end result.
    the french and american revolutions, never mind the chinese and russian revolutions, have all led to some rather unfortunate ends, whatever their apparent virtues.

    the examples are multitudinous. the french reaction to the haitian revolution or the algerian civil war, despite their vaunted uprising, would fit the bill. the yanqui slavery debacle or engagement in chemical and nuclear warfare are other obvious examples. during the korean war they basically decimated the entire peninsula, using more ordinance than they used in all of w.w.II in addition to napalm, that well before using it in vietnam,.

    also resistance often amounts to more than just reaction. it can involve serious matters of identity, community pride, cultural production, and on.
    in other words there is more in the mix than just the negative agenda set by the white colonial and imperial powers that be.

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