Kenneth L. Hardin: Some protesters should just go sit down

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 6, 2022

“Boy, if you don’t go somewhere and sit down!”  Those were the words my maternal grandmother frequently uttered when I worked her last nerve as a child.

When you’re that young and carefree like I was, I’m not sure you’re aware of how many nerves adults have. But when you heard that statement delivered with the unwavering passion as she did, you knew they were perilously close to depletion. It’s been 50 years since I’ve heard that never-acted-upon threat out loud from my late grandma, and I really miss being slightly afraid.

My nerve supply level remains strong to this day because I employed the same never-acted-upon, veiled threat of discipline with my three sons when they were growing up. I recall many occasions where I was able to convince them to modify attitudes and behavior by strongly encouraging them to sit down with speed and efficiency. It was simply the correct amount of voice inflection, coupled with an unblinking gaze as I delivered grandma’s line that made all the difference.

As I’ve engaged in my daily routine of online immersion of relevant world news and the mind-numbing pop culture fair that lessens intellectual capacity, I’ve found myself wishing a few folks would engage in immediate posterior parking. Civil disobedience has its place in affecting change and I encourage it, but symbolic acts of protests with no real measurable outcome are pointless and ridiculous. Protests that do harm to the overall collective are more dangerous than helpful to the cause. In the wake of the Russian aggression that resulted in a needless war with Ukraine, people were on the news gleefully pouring out vodka and other Russian made spirits that they’d already paid for. How did this help those suffering Ukrainians? I feel the same level of disgust when I see angry sports fans burning jerseys that, again, they’ve already purchased. They’re mad at a multimillion-dollar athlete who probably doesn’t care because he can’t see them with the exorbitant salary he receives blocking his view. Why not stop idolizing someone who plays a sport and donate the money spent on apparel to research, an educational institution, or a nonprofit? A better solution is to just go sit down somewhere.

When the truckers and supporters blocked the bridge in Canada to protest vaccine mandates, the musical chairs game came to mind, but with a twist. Every person on that bridge blocking commercial progress would get a seat while music played. If you don’t want to take the vaccine, then don’t. Blocking commerce and hurting the millions of people economically you say you’re fighting for is just asinine.

I recall a telephone conversation several years ago with a friend who works within the heartbeat of our government in Washington, D.C. In mid-sentence, he paused briefly and then continued on to describe a large contingent of protesters impeding traffic on a nearby bridge. On that pre-planned event day, adults were urged to walk out of work and kids were instructed to leave school without permission to lie down in the street to interrupt traffic. I was confused. There are so many educational cracks and deficits that currently exist in the Black community where kids are struggling to keep pace, so why would anyone encourage a Black child or any student to walk out of an educational setting? Black students are being suspended and expelled disproportionately, so why place them in a position to be further disciplined?

I’m not minimizing the importance of protests to bring awareness to needed change, but I’m not a fan of marching and symbolic gestures. I subscribe to more actionable involvement that yields immediate and sustainable results. Asking for permission to be outraged over inequality and injustice has never sat well with my soul. After seeing the cellphone pictures, I wished I had enough metaphorical chairs in my possession for all those that participated in that ridiculous event to take a seat. This absence of recliners, however, didn’t inhibit me from recognizing idiocy and issuing my grandma’s suggestive declaration of seated repose for their misguided civil disobedient act, and whew, skinfolk were not happy with me.

I’m all for disruption of the process in the face of injustice and inequity but marching without an end game is just walking. To keep using ineffective strategies that only result in inconvenience to the protesters while yielding no long tern solutions or positive outcomes may play well to the cameras and the uninformed viewer but is disingenuous and simply a waste of time.

I’m exhausted writing this and can feel my nerve supply lessening, so I’m going somewhere and sit down. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves while I catch my breath.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Councilman, and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.