There is no such thing as “nonviolence.”
We live in a system pervaded by violence. Every day the sheer force used by governments, corporations, churches, and families is incomprehensible in scale.
The starvation of children in a world of excess is violence.
Gay conversion is violence. Homophobia is violence.
Patriarchy is violence. Traditionalism is violence.
Profit is violence. Union busting is violence.
And yes, cops choking black people to death in public is violence.
The term violence is too rarely used, and used too often to insult protesters. In reality, violence is not immediate bodily harm; it is the use of any outside force to change someone else’s behavior. If using a gun to rob a store is considered a violent crime by the (in)justice system, then why is a cop using a gun to coerce civilians not also violent? If it is, then why is it not called violent as often and as derisively?
That violence, while very real, becomes more difficult to track on larger scales. It is still violence to prevent homeless people from taking over empty homes — the guns might not be pointed at their heads, but we all know the guns are there, waiting for the opportunity to defend inhuman property and end human life.
It is still violence to force people to pay a landlord’s profit margin for the crime of not having enough money for a mortgage. Homelessness is a crueler and more effective weapon than a gun could ever be.
Though I would love to preach about how hypocritical the media and governments are for only denouncing the violence of protesters and for ignoring, in Twain’s words, “that older and real terror” of poverty and injustice, it is also important to note that all protest is violent, and that is okay.
All protest, by its very nature, is an attempt to force the powerful to act in ways they normally would not. The icons of “nonviolent resistance” successfully used tactics that did not injure cops physically, but which still forced those cops to behave differently. MLK’s occupation of physical spaces disrupted entire cities and provoked national outrage. That is a kind of violence — a kind of violence we agree with, but violence nonetheless.
Because this is the case, we should stop worrying about the impossible standard of nonviolent protest. Such a thing does not exist. There are no violent and nonviolent protests; there are only effective and ineffective ones. Rather than entertaining the bad-faith arguments of fascists, white moderates, and armchair activists, we should only worry about being effective.
The question isn’t: “to use violence or not to;” the questions are “what kind of violence” and “what are we trying to achieve?” And even more importantly, the reality is neither “nonviolent state vs. violent protesters” as the cops would have us believe, nor is it “violent state vs. nonviolent protest” as ineffectual moderates would aspire towards.
There is no such thing as nonviolence. It’s all just violence. It’s a massive, violent struggle of justice versus injustice.
The worst thing we can do is lose.