Monday, January 04, 2010

The sensationlessness of nonviolence

In an article titled “Protest mobilization, protest repression, and their interaction” Clark McPhail and John D. McCarthy briefly describe and analyse one of the largest British riots in the last quarter of the 20th century, the 1991 Poll Tax Riot in and around Trafalgar Square in London. Despite the violence reported by police and media, scientific analysis of the case must lead to the conclusion, according to the authors, that “[it] is no exaggeration to assert that in this riot ... violence by civilians or by police officers is the exception rather than the rule. This is not ... the impression left by the print and electronic media, who consistently report violence against person and property, if and when it occurs, to the exclusion of the more frequent, prosaic, and nonviolent actions by the majority of the actors in the riot area” (in: Christian Davenport et.al. (eds.), Repression and Mobilization, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005; pp. 17-18).
I think that generally this is true, not only for the case described: Media are more interested in reporting the violence in actions than the nonviolent behaviour of the participants. Even more, peaceful actions and demonstrations are often ignored just because there is no violence. Simply the fact that there is an action going on is often apparently not enough, even if this action is reasonable and justified. I do not want to say that peaceful actions are always ignored but generally the selection made in the media which actions to report is that way that one gets the impression that public actions and violence are linked in some way. However, during the years I have taken part in many demonstrations and other actions. Only one of them ended in disorder (although I do not have seen violence then; it was an anti-Vietnam demonstration about 40 years ago with some 50.000 participants). All other public actions I participated in had always a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. What I know from this experience, but also from reports that I received in other ways (mainly not from the big public media) is that a nonviolent course of public actions is the normal way. Even more, I dare to say that more than 99% of all public actions go off in a peaceful and pleasant way. But who is interested in talking about what is normal even when it may be more interesting? Aren’t we all sensation mongers and muckrakers in our heart who secretly enjoy the bad news and do not want to value the good news?

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