The immorality of sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other protests
May 13, 2012 1 Comment
This latest comic is inspired by two anti-business movements in the Sacramento area. In April, activists petitioned Sacramento’s city council to block a McDonald’s from opening in the midst of what some would term a “food desert.” This followed on the heels of a January through March sit-in strike that successfully closed the U.C. Davis branch of U.S. Bank. Both campaigns were driven by a misguided desire to narrow free market choices available to the community.
While these kinds of paternalistic projects are at odds with the values of free choice and personal responsibility, at least the anti-burger campaign was conducted within the limits of the local political process. But the anti-bank sit-in demonstrates the widespread and reckless abandon with which too many progressive protesters pursue their cause today.
It’s common and commendable to ask if the ends justify the means. The anti-U.S. Bank campaign is a clear case where neither the ends nor the means are justified. In blocking physical access to the bank, members of Occupy UCD actively prevented customers and employees from engaging in mutually beneficial commercial transactions. Such stunts that diminish the legitimate choices of others are a real threat to freedom.
The university administration, perhaps still reeling from November’s pepper-spray incident, was complicit in its failure to remove the blockaders. Now, U.S Bank is suing the campus for breach of contract because its police did not effectively enforce an ordinance barring people from blocking public spaces. On top of $2 million+ lost in future rent and revenue sharing, U.C. Davis stands to shed additional dollars fending off the suit.
By allowing those with gut-felt convictions to run roughshod over the rule of law, the administration betrayed the civil society it claims to honor and cherish. In an even greater let down, Seattle Mayor Mike McGuinn allowed a large, organized, and anonymous mob of masked “black bloc” protesters to smash numerous store front windows on May 1. Among the infamous moments captured was the hypocritical smashing of a Niketown window by a Nike shoe wearer.
The solipsistic morality that drives most protest should give us all more pause than it does. Besides actions that violate others’ rights of movement or property, there are protests of self-inflicted harm. Consider the multiple self-immolations that ignited the Arab Spring last year. Or, look at the not-so-fatal hunger strike. This act of protest is way overrated. It’s akin to terrorism in that the protester threatens violence if the target of coercion refuses to grant the demand. The only difference is that the protester supplies his own body for the violence rather than that of a hapless victim. Self-sacrifice is warranted for ends like saving children in a burning building, but harming oneself to coerce another is as immoral as harming others.
When protesters stop respecting the rights of others or even the value of their own bodies, civilization takes a step backward. Rather than romanticize protest, which devolves to a gut appeal, our culture should uphold the truly constructive engagement that arises from our more measured, non-coercive political and economic processes.