The Value of the Protest: Promoting Cooperation for Positive Change

Why do people demonstrate and protest? Most would say it’s because they want to bring attention to themselves or a cause. We then ask, “Why?” Usually it’s because they desire some sort of change. The next question is something like, “How do you expect your demonstration or protest to assist in making that change?” Normally, if the whole business has been well thought through, the answer would be, “I expect to get people to cooperate with me once I’ve been seen or heard so that the current condition is improved.” So the value of the protest is promoting cooperation for positive change. Does antagonism garnish that kind of cooperation? It appears Jesus didn’t think so…

“After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. ‘What do you think, Simon?’ he asked. ‘From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?’‘From others,’ Peter answered. ‘Then the children are exempt,’ Jesus said to him.’But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.’”
-Matthew 17:24-27

What was the point? Jesus was sent to spread the Gospel and encourage repentance for the sake of our salvation. He certainly was not sent to coddle us in our sin, but neither was he sent to cultivate bitterness in futility. His efforts were to get people to make a change and he knew that making them unnecessarily angry would not elicit their cooperation in accepting what he had to say and make the necessary changes to save their souls. St. Paul made similar observations in his subsequent letters to congregations throughout the region. In this instance, among other things, Jesus circumvented the counterproductive resentment of others that would interfere with his goals…namely by paying a customary tax.

“Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.”
-Mark 12:17

So why would anyone commit themselves to a demonstration or a protest that does nothing but make people angry? Unless the only goal is to get attention (negative attention) without the hope of influencing people to make a change, the whole thing is a silly waste of time and effort. If the motive is merely to get attention, we can reasonably assume the protesters’ single desire is to draw the approval of those who agree with them in the first place. Ah, so they’re simply indulging their egos and wallowing in pride…a deadly sin that leads nowhere.

If I desire to get not only the attention, but also the cooperation, of people for the higher motive of making a positive change, Jesus has shown me the least thing I want to do is anger them. Common sense, if not wisdom, dictates that anger is an impediment to my goals. If my intent is to move a nation, it makes sense not to trample on the symbols that represent the virtues of their country.

So what do we see people doing today? Are they embracing virtues and encouraging positive change? Or are they just stroking those egos by slopping up public attention? Frankly, I learned as a child that throwing a tantrum or squatting down in a huff never resulted in getting what I wanted…but then, I had parents that weren’t moved by disruptive behavior any more than a nation is by having its admirable qualities disparaged.

Photo by Joachim Pedersen via Flickr

Michael Kelly
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Comments 2
  1. Dear Mr. Michael P. Kelly,

    I do not go around looking for blogs with an opposing views, but your blog was forwarded to me by a parishioner.
    With all due respect please allow me to offer some thoughts.

    I totally agree that “promoting cooperation for positive change” would be an much easier to achieve progress than “protesting” and “disrupting”.
    But when was the last time that the status quo was changed with the righteous indignation produced by protesting and disrupting?

    It is a major stretch to claim that Jesus didn’t strongly protest and rebel against the system oppression that produced suffering to the most vulnerable around Him.
    The powerful and the mighty that controlled the system got so angry at Jesus that they nailed Him to a cross, and proceeded to the some to His followers.
    What is one to do if the privileged and the powerful believe that the needs, claims and protests of the oppressed are not valid?

    The privileged and the powerful will always get angry when they are called on their sin against God’s creation.
    Their anger comes from their fear of loosing power and therefore it is not only beyond the control of protesters, but it is totally on them to recognize that their anger comes from their power being challenged.

    Without “protest” and “disruption” of the status quo nothing would ever change, and that is exactly what Jesus taught and embodied, all the way to the Cross.
    Peaceful disruption in most cases and some turning of tables at times, but protest and disruption nonetheless.
    Expecting that agents of oppression and systems of oppression will change their ways on their own, or they will see the light via requests for cooperation and pleas is just unprecedented and naive.
    That is of course, an entirely different story if one never had to protest against anything.

    May God’s light ultimately shine brightly upon us all and the God’s love, peace and justice prevail,
    Rev. Alex

    1. Thank you for your response. Actually, you’ve offered examples that prove my point. Jesus criticized and challenged in a manner that had impact, not in futility. There were many “rabble rousers” and “revolutionaries” in Jesus’ time that slid into obscurity. Not every righteous cause prevails, but merely angering and annoying people without an expectation of change is, indeed, a waste of time in the end…it produces nothing but angst. Those who hold neutral or uncommitted points of view are repulsed by the method, not convinced. Questioning authority without expecting an answer is just making noise. Worse, or better, (depending on your point of view) drawing attention to a flawed cause is self-defeating…perhaps the oppressed are not “oppressed” at all. Perhaps the negative consequences of their actions is justified “suppression” of lawlessness for the sake of public safety…which points to the subject of my next contribution to “Blue Lines.” Unfortunately, when sustained force is used, there is bound to be “collateral damage”…not every pass downfield results in gained yardage and sometimes the play goes out of bounds with unintended consequences on the sidelines…some of them tragic.

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