How Protesters Alienate Potential Supporters

28 Aug
BART protests

BART protests

From Santiago to San Francisco, protests are all the rage this summer (and winter in Chile), with discontent simmering to a boiling point. As I observe these protests, I notice that my traditional sympathy towards the man on the street has shifted- I no longer reflexively support protesters just for the sake of it. Perhaps it comes from being a city dweller, but I want there to be some order to protests, and respect for those of us who live and work near the city center. Let me explain how the recent BART protests have alienated many in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On July 3rd, BART police shot and killed transient Charles Hill on the Civic Center platform as he threatened them with a broken bottle.  If these facts of the case are indeed true, then the response was very disproportionate, period. Tasers were invented to subdue suspects momentarily while not inflicting permanent damage. Nevertheless, I also understand that the police need to react within seconds, deciding on the best course of action to protect themselves and those around them.

And when those who were outraged against the police action decided on the best form of protest, well, you can see the results in the image above. Climbing on top of BART trains to keep them from moving forward didn’t endear BART commuters to protesters. Thousands of people use the system to get from home to work and back every day; messing with their commute and leaving them stranded for now THREE WEEKS IN A ROW does little to bring people to seeing your side of things. As a matter of fact, the BART protesters have engendered quite a bit of animosity among the commuter crowd.

Now let’s look to the Southern Hemisphere and take a look at the student protests rocking Chile. I didn’t realize until a Chilean colleague told me that all universities in Chile are private- there are no publicly funded universities in the country. The students have very legitimate grievances with the government, and have been taking to the streets to protest peacefully. That is, until some protesters began setting fire to historic churches and department stores. Much has been said before by people better-versed in protest movements than me, but it seems to me that veering from a non-violent path alienates supporters. And a large part of protesting is to create awareness of a certain cause.  It is always sad when a minority of violent anarchists turn public support against an otherwise worthy cause.  March, hold signs, sing songs, join hands, but refrain from getting violent. And people will listen.

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