Everyone has the right to protest – even if we don’t like what they’re saying

People are quick to judge protestors, and with good reason. Imagine, having to walk across town or take a slightly longer route to work. How inconvenient for the average person.

What are they protesting about anyway? Water charges? I mean, I know they suck but they’re here, and if they’re here, just accept it. Immigrants? Sure we’re the most prolific nation of migrants in world history.

Why are we letting these people inconvenience our lives with their disagreement with the status quo? Protests should be held out of sight and out of mind. If nobody sees it, nobody will be worried about it, right?

These are the arguments that have been put forth by many as a reaction to any protest that happens in our streets by those who disagree with the protestors’ message.

Last week, Pegida – a so-called anti-islamic group with branches all over Europe – set up in Ireland. Their first rally saw a counter protest from an anti-fascist group, which led to a face off and the Pegida contingent being run into a Euro shop. Then the Gardai arrived and tensions rose further.

The anti-fascists were there to protest about Pegida protesting. One could argue that the anti-fascists had the right to protest, but they’re protesting that the other side shouldn’t be allowed to protest. Surely that’s a bit of a double standard?

Is this a two-tiered democracy? Should the aggrieved minority be barred from voicing their opinion? Should people be disallowed from protest if some other people disagreed with their opinion?

I’m not saying Pegida are in the right – personally, I would prefer if they disappeared into the ether and we heard no more from them. But that’s not how the world works.

What happens if we do decide to suppress a peaceful protest group by chasing them off in a mob, or going at them with batons?

Let’s take a look-see. To take the Irish example, the original IRA weren’t allowed to protest peacefully in the north – they were retaliated violently by the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries. What happened then? The Provo’s and an extended armed conflict.

No matter your persuasion, you can’t argue that if they were let shout and march they wouldn’t have resorted to armed retaliation in the first place. The inmates might not have taken over the asylum.

This by no means excuses what they did. It was not an excuse. The IRA’s actions were atrocious. But you shouldn’t bite the dog without expecting a bite back.

Now apply this to the Dublin situation. It doesn’t matter if you disagreed with what they were trying to achieve. Let them expend their energy and let them realise they are wrong. And if they don’t realise it, let them grow disillusioned with their cause. Don’t make them feel aggrieved by giving them a sense of injustice.

Sure Pegida might not have enough members to rise in armed conflict and engage us in guerrilla warfare. But nobody said it was a perfect comparison.

Turn the tables for a second. Say Pegida were the counter protestors chasing off the anti-fascists peaceful protest. It would be atrocious. Nobody would stand for it. But because the majority of people disagree with Pegida’s side in this argument, then you’re applying a double standard to this.

The right to a peaceful protest is the civil right of everyone in a democracy, even those who allegedly seek to create ‘fascism’. Those who begin to twist the definitions of the right of protest to deny others a peaceful protest is breaking away from the fundamentals of democracy.

This is a line the already weak left in this country do not want to cross. If you are using non-democratic means to keep a democracy, is it really a democracy?

If people can be goaded into fascism with the tools democracy uses, is it really fascism?

The anti-fascist group could have taken wiser steps to make the Pegida group disperse. Pacifism is not passiveness. Take the case a case from America; the Westboro Baptist Church is an organization famous for its virulent anti-homosexual views amongst other things.

The neighbour of one of their members painted their house in the colours of a rainbow flag. The message was unmistakeable. And no punches were thrown. The church has not grown.

You don’t need to agree with what protestors are saying – it’s a matter of respect. Let them blow off some steam. It’s democracy’s ventilation system.

If they are in the right, then people will realise they’re right. The movement will grow. Democracy works. If they are wrong, they fall away. Democracy still works.

If you can’t get why people protest, you’re privileged. You’re getting the best of democracy, and fair play to you. But protest is a way of letting their causes be known – it forces you to acknowledge them. It doesn’t force you to join.

You shouldn’t be so quick to judge Pegida for being inconvenient. Sure, judge the heck out of their message, it’s toxic. But don’t condemn them for protesting. Let them be wrong. What’s more inconvenient? Loud protests or loud guns?

Ryan McBride

Image Credit: Chai Brady

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