Some questions make us curious and invite us to engage or compel us to act while others assume answers, shut down discussion and evade responsibility. How can we develop and pose questions that do the former instead of the latter? As one answer to that question, I want to put an example of the latter (a question that assumes, accuses, evades) beside an example of the former (a set of questions that inspires, invites, compels).
Is There a Right Way to Protest?
During my daily scroll through Facebook this morning I encountered an open letter from DO! (Differences Organized!) about the University of Minnesota’s first event for their new “Big Questions” series: Is There a Right Way to Protest? The open letter, which is addressed to the “complicit, complacent, and the comfortable,” argues that such a question is “fundamentally flawed” because it places “the responsibility of effecting positive social justice squarely on the backs of organizers, while ignoring the role of systems of power and domination that create socially unjust conditions making protest imperative.” It “makes a value judgment,” functions as an “excuse to neglect student protestors demands,” substitutes conversation for actual change, absolves responsibility for creating conditions that necessitate protest, and creates divisions between protestors with different approaches and tactics.
In place of this question, DO! offers some questions of their own:
- Why is dissent criminalized?
- Why do we only ask whether the actions of victims and survivors of oppression are “right” when the causes of such protests are so blatantly wrong?
- Why are the Ethnic Studies departments perpetually underfunded and understaffed?
- Why do Black and Brown students rarely feel comfortable, safe, and supported on this campus?
- What message is the University trying to convey to its student body and surrounding community [by the posing of their question]?
As a strong proponent of asking and “feeling the force” of questions that make us curious, unsettle us, and provoke/inspire us to act, I find the questions posed by DO! to be far more compelling and helpful than the U of M’s singular (and designed-to-be-divisive) question.
As a final note, I love DO!’s last line:
we will remain #UMNDrivenToUncover the racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative practices of the University and disrupt said practices until they cease to exist.
Follow-up: Here’s an article about the event and DO!’s protest. The article also has a link to a recording of the event.
And here’s an article that discusses the DO! protest and larger concerns about “commodifying diversity” at the U of Minnesota.