Protests for Justice and Calls for Revolution Are Not the Same Thing

The protests and riots of the past two weeks are not a surprise. The far-Left has been signaling for months now that this was coming. The only reason it is happening now is that activists were waiting for a spark, the brutal death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. This, combined with months of quarantine and economic downturn, served them with exactly the moment they needed.

Having covered numerous protests over the past five months I am not surprised by the language I heard at protests in Washington, D.C. over the last week.

At one of these protests, hundreds of marchers took over the Ninth Street tunnel and then part of Interstate 395. I watched as a young African American woman ran up to a trapped car and screamed, “If you’re silent, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.” Seemingly intimidated, the driver did not respond.

Many of the protestors are not interested in clear change. They want revolution. One protestor held a sign that read, “By any means.” Another stated, “Black People Built This Country & We Will Burn It To The Ground.” One sign said, “It is right to rebel!”

One African American woman spoke to me as we walked down the 395 highway. “Cops keep killing us and racist white people keep taking advantage of a privileged system,” she said. “I am out here because maybe one day somebody will care enough to dismantle these systems that keep us oppressed, but until that happens we will protest and we will riot, there is nothing else we can do now,” she told me.

I couldn’t help but think of Selma as we walked down the highway. The Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 protested a deeply racist system of oppression and segregation. But are 2020protestors doing the same thing?

While accompanying protestors on Saturday as they marched down the National Mall, I was reminded of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s momentous speech. Days earlier both the World War II Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial had been defaced with graffiti by protestors. This made me ask myself, are these two things alike?

Not really, no. These protests were not a march on Washington, but a storm on Washington.

Most will point to the violence as the big difference between the two events, but that is not my point. The biggest difference between the March on Washington and the recent protests in Washington is what each hoped to accomplish.

Revolution, Not Reform

A popular meme going around on social media states, “The system isn’t broken, it was built this way.” While covering numerous protests this year from The Women’s March to Impeachment protests I heard several groups calling for a total revolution.

At the Women’s March the participants had all learned a Chilean feminist chant that they performed in front of the White House. The song states, “The Patriarchy is our judge, that imprisons us at birth.” The chant goes on to say, “And the rapist is you, it’s the cops, it’s the judges, it’s the system, it’s the president . . . ”

During the March for Life, a counter-protester yelled, “Hey, MAGA, when was America actually great—when they dropped bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, when there was slavery? America was never great.”

A group named Refuse Fascism organized protests daily during President Trump’s impeachment hearings. One of the leaders said, “We cannot rely on the Democrats, we cannot rely on the election, we cannot rely on the normal channels, because Donald Trump is a fascist who does not respect the normal channels.” Refuse Fascism calls for the implementation of a new socialist republic.

Another protestor said to the crowd, “We have to cast aside the illusion that the normal processes are going to take care of this . . . it was through the elections [with its] racist electoral college and gerrymandering, that Donald Trump came into power.”

During a January 29 protest, one activist said, “Donald Trump and his regime are intensifying the horrors that this country was founded on, white supremacy [and] the genocidal extermination of the native peoples . . . There is a direct line between the Confederacy and the fascism [of] today.”

The Floyd protests are echoing similar sentiments. Numerous signs indicated that America has always been racist.

One person held a sign that read, “Black Genocide 1619-Present.” Someone else held a sign stating, “Make America Not Racist For the First Time.” A sign posted to a tree outside of the White House said “Racism Starts Here! All Founding Fathers.”

One young man I spoke with who was protesting outside of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters said he believed the police have their origins in the slave system. He blamed capitalism for our society’s present ills and not only called to abolish the police but our economic system as well.

MLK’s Forgotten Legacy

The biggest difference between the Floyd protests and the March on Washington is that the former seeks to tear down America and its systems and the latter sought to set them aright and make them consistent with their promise.

Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in our system of government, but many in this new generation do not. King rightly chided America for not living up to its principles. He said America had written a check that black Americans were not allowed to cash. King’s check was the promise of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal.”

King believed this promise still needed to be kept—but at least he believed it existed. Many activists today do not.

King was correct, our nation had taken an ugly turn from the Founding. The likes of John C. Calhoun and Alexander Stephens espoused an evil ideology that promoted the positive good of slavery and white supremacy that first caused a Civil War and then spawned and defined the Jim Crow era.

King argued that there was much change that needed to happen and, since then, a lot of that change has taken place. Yes, more change needs to come—but that’s a far cry from revolution. Edmund Burke famously criticized the French Revolution failing to tell the French people that they could have repaired the walls of their society instead of tearing them all down.

Is not the same true for us? We have walls that need repairing. We need more police accountability and more equity in our justice system, but reform is not the same as revolution. If we tore down our electoral system, our justice system, our economic system, and our constitutional system, what would replace it? Other ideas have been tried and we have seen how those nations have fared. Our systems aren’t the problem; corruption within the systems is what’s at issue.

Failure of Education

It should come as no surprise that this is where our country is when one looks at what students have been learning in universities and public schools for decades now. The ideology of identity politics and class warfare has trickled down from the heights of the Ivy League towers into the mainstream consciousness. The New York Times’ “1619 Project” is but the latest iteration of an account of American history that says America has been racist from the beginning, but it is an account with wide-acclaim.

One thing the “1619 Project” gets wrong is that slavery and black oppression has been underplayed in our educational system. This is incorrect. For years now students have been taught that America is an inherently racist country, that it is our original sin and that there is no atonement, not the Civil War, not the abolition of slavery, not the success of the Civil Rights Movement or Civil Rights legislation, and not affirmative action. The only thing that will cure America of racism is total revolution. Equality under the law is no longer enough, color blindness is now the new standard of racism.

The loudest cry from Floyd protestors is “No justice, no peace.” Yet do they, even amongst themselves, agree about what justice is?

When Floyd’s death was recorded the entire country stood up in unity to denounce the officer involved as well as those who stood by watching. There wasn’t a single sane voice defending the officer’s decision to suffocate Floyd with his knee. As is right, the officer was arrested and charged and on Wednesday the other officers present were also charged. None of this quelled anger because the goalpost for what constitutes justice is continually being moved.

For those who believe that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should have been arrested sooner and charged with first-degree murder instead of third-degree murder, if that is what you believe is just, then by all means come out and protest for that. Yet demanding that we abolish the police, screaming “F*ck America,” and burning the American flag is counterproductive (to say the least).

In fact, it is America’s fundamental ideals of equality and justice under the law that will be our best weapons to fight racism and inequality. There are those protesting around the nation demanding true justice. They hold signs that read, “I can’t breathe” and “Stop killing us.” These cries are justified by the situation. A call for total revolution, however, is not.

Power Not Justice

The truth is that many on the far Left do not want justice, they want power and they use situations like this one to get it. The ideology of the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s is winning out over and against the ideas that undergirded the civil rights movement.

While the civil rights movement appealed to national sentiment, seeking to change minds and hearts, the black power movement believed it had to take over the levers of power within the political system in order to institute change.

One young man in Saturday’s march told me that he was out protesting as a “show of force.” He said that they would keep marching until people believed they couldn’t come out of their homes unless it was to join the protests.

What was this incident about—as a Black Lives Matters member demanded a random white woman to get on her knees and apologize for white privilege—other than power? The man behind the camera claims it was about solidarity, but real solidarity will only come from an agreement on the definition of justice, not from inciting anger on one side and guilt on another.

If we continue on this path, there will be no going back. Our country will be unrecognizable. I know that is what some people want, but be careful what you wish for. Most utopias turn into dystopias sooner than expected.

About Krystina Skurk

Krystina Skurk is a research assistant at Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C. She received a master's degree in politics from Hillsdale’s Van Andel School of Statesmanship. She is a former fellow of the John Jay Institute, a graduate of Regent University, and a former teacher at Archway Cicero, a Great Hearts charter school.

Photo: Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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