Violent protests have drastically hampered any sense of unity in our country. Whether it was Black Lives Matter rioting in numerous major cities over alleged racially motivated police killings, or dissatisfied voters storming the Capitol building after President Biden was confirmed the winner of the 2020 election, Americans have had their fill of “demonstrations” turning dangerous.
By contrast, this past weekend, a high-profile group of protesters in Lansing, Michigan, took an altogether different approach to get their point across. On January 30, hundreds of people gathered outside the Michigan capitol building to advocate for the “Let Them Play” initiative, which calls on state officials to lift COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and allow winter sports at high schools to start up again. Ex-Detroit Red Wings hockey star Darren McCarty appeared as a keynote speaker, pleading with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to let students return to their seasons.
“Please Governor, go to the science,” McCarty said. “Please give us an explanation. We’ve done everything you’ve ever wanted us to do. Let them play!”
Currently, the ban on winter sports will continue until Feb. 21. While other states around Michigan have already allowed their high school play seasons to return, Gov. Whitmer has not even explained the logic behind her decision.
While the results of the “Let Them Play!” protest are yet to be determined, this group has nonetheless delivered their message powerfully simply because of how they did it.
They gathered without damaging property, harming other people, or yelling rhetoric based out of a victim mentality. Instead, they identified an issue, used their constitutional right to assemble and “petition the government for a redress of grievances,” and did so peacefully. There is a certain confidence that comes from being peaceful and doing the right thing in the face of adversity. In that, the action translates into a message that cannot be ignored by others.
When looking at some of the greatest political and social movements in the world in recent memory, the same pattern of peacefully protesting emerges.
Consider the Civil Rights movement or the Solidarity movement inspired by John Paul II in Communist Poland and later spearheaded by Lech Walesa. While each movement supported different goals in different times and different parts of the world, both will long be remembered for how they brought about almost miraculous change in their respective countries — and beyond.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led millions of Americans to advocate for black citizens to be treated equally during the 1950s and 1960s. King and his followers met harsh resistance, police brutality, and opposition from the Church. But nothing deterred King and his followers, and his faith in Christ propelled him to ignore death threats, physical attacks, jail time, and other demoralizing setbacks and push ahead in his insistence on black equality. His followers bought into his strategy and cause, and they too were willing to suffer whatever consequences came their way as a result of their peaceful efforts to effect change.
Through boycotting busses, refusing to respond to violence with violence, gathering by the thousands in peace, and getting their message out through the media, they eventually gained the justice that had long evaded them.
Likewise, Pope John Paul II became the main voice for Polish freedom, not through brash tactics, but peaceful ones. The communist government had long persecuted the Catholic church and oppressed its people, so the Pope advocated for reform by encouraging Poles to seek independence from their totalitarian government by speaking the truth and protesting for human dignity and rights using non-violent means.
A factory electrician named Lech Walesa and several other brave leaders took up the Pope’s cause by calling for work strikes and peaceful demonstrations. Even though they faced imprisonment and communist leaders imposed martial law, Walesa and his companions endured for nine long years until the movement they led threw off the chains of oppression laid on them by communism.
How did those brave Poles accomplish this incredible feat? By taking the long view and not forsaking their cause for temporary revenge on their captors and oppressors. Walesa said, “We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless.”
Walesa was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected premier of Poland in the first-ever direct presidential election.
Neither of these examples of protests used violence or terror as weapons like most American protests do today, and yet they all changed the world in ways few thought possible.
The Black Lives Matter movement, however, has failed to follow this pattern, and it has cost them dearly. According to a survey of 160,000 registered voters, just 16 percent support the organization. After George Floyd was killed, that number grew to 25 percent, but after the first riot occurred in Minneapolis, only 12 percent supported the group and their cause.
This is one example of how violently protesting can negatively affect how a cause is received. Being drastic and brash can certainly get a message heard, but it often does not yield the same long-term and permanent results as do peaceful demonstrations by people who are willing to suffer the consequences of standing up for their cause and righteously persisting.
Psalm 40:1-2 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Protesting effectively for a just and moral cause could possibly take years, and those who start the movement might not see its end. But if God wills for change to happen, He will see it through in His timing, by His power, and for His glory.