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Violence and Nonviolence Movements: Critical Analysis

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Violence and nonviolence movements seek to gain power through the use of force while using different methods to achieve their goals. However, in what situation is violent dissent deemed necessary, only to be used as an act of protection toward those who are using violence? Martin Luther King states that nonviolent dissent is effective in that it forces everyone to acknowledge unequal rights. However, in Malcolm X’s speech at the Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Excerpted, he asserts that resorting to violence is acceptable as long as changes are made in the end. Adding on to the idea that violent dissent is necessary, in Marcie Bianco’s interview with Angela Davis, Davis stated that people should not blindly act violent, instead, acts of violence should be organized. Violence dissent should be organized, however, it should only be used as an act of self-defense against those constraining protesters standing up for their rights to equality.

Violence can be seen as an instrument for change as it paves way for African Americans to be heard. Violence dissent is necessary to achieve change regarding inequality, as Malcolm X stated, “We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary” (X 162). Violence dissent is acceptable as long as changes are made in the end and inequality should be a thing of the past as everyone should aim to make a difference in the present. However, violent dissent must be organized or it can result in a continuous cycle of fighting. For example, the 20th century is regarded as the most murderous time in history between territorial states or alliances of states. Without organizing these acts of violence, it can result in decades of never-ending bloodshed and peace would be considered nonexistent. Angela Davis mentioned that the idea of nonviolence dissent is an oxymoron as the ends justify the mean (Bianco 165). When protesters are ignored, organized violence is the only form of expression that can result in the issues being acknowledged. The use of violence can help a movement gain attention and opens the eyes of those unaware of the inequality and discrimination of Blacks.

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When nonviolent methods prove ineffective, time and time again, against those who are using violence as a means to shut down those who are aiming to change the laws regarding racial inequality, violence can be used as an act of self-defense. Similar to Antifa, a group that 'views self-defense as necessary in terms of defending communities against white supremacists,” it is the legal right of a person to defend themselves against other acts of violence (Illing 188). Antifa aims to protect protesters against White supremacists but violence dissent should be used by the protesters to protect themselves from other violence acts aimed against them when protesting. Activists have the right to defend themselves in situations that can result in harm, especially when protesting for equal rights. Like Ralph Young said, 'When [activists] go from nonviolence to violence, it is most often an expression of their exasperation that those in power are not listening to them; that their nonviolent protests aren’t being taken seriously. So, in despair and frustration, they lash out and act violently. Their goal, however, is to reform the system, perhaps even in radical ways, but they are not trying to destroy the system' (Polychroniou 108). When protesters are not heard and are being harmed while protesting a cause, violence is necessary to defend themselves from any potential harm. Freedom is fought by Blacks, not given despite living in a country where freedom stands. Black has been segregated and treated inhumanely by Whites and overcoming the inequality and injustice of Whites is another obstacle that Blacks must face every day. The use of violence is an act of self-defense and protection against racial discrimination.

Violence dissent can also be viewed as harmful and reckless through the use of physical force to achieve a goal. Despite protest playing an important role in the movement for equal rights, nonviolence dissent is much more effective as it forces people to acknowledge the issues and see the fault in our society regarding the inequality that Blacks face every day without the use of violence. Nonviolence dissent may be effective in forcing people to acknowledge the bigger issue however, “history shows that it’s dangerous to take violence and self-defense off the table” (Illing 188). Violence is necessary in terms of self-defense as it protects the activist from getting harmed during the movement for change. Throughout the 20th century, history have shown that violence is necessary and should be considered as an option when needed. Racial oppression and injustices by Whites can be seen as a threat to Blacks everywhere. As Martin Luther King stated in his speech, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored' (King 149). Nonviolence dissent facilitates a change that is more powerful than violence dissent as it issues the problem regarding racial inequality towards Blacks. Furthermore, when violence dissent is done, the real problem is not acknowledged because it is seen as an act of physical force. Though violence is seen as a physical force, it can be regarded as an oxymoron; “be nonviolent with those who are nonviolent to you. And when you can bring me a nonviolent racist, bring me a nonviolent segregationist, then I’ll get nonviolent. But don’t teach me to be nonviolent until you teach some of those crackers to be nonviolent” (Malcolm X 160). If others disregard the idea of nonviolence methods, then why should those protesting for equality rights accept that nonviolence is the solution to everything? Until they have learned to respect the idea of nonviolent dissent through their actions, violent dissent is necessary to protect dissenters from harm as a means of self-protection. Furthermore, violent acts of dissent can potentially result in decades of bloodshed and war that will only end badly on both ends in the end. This has been shown throughout history with multiple deaths due to activists resorting to violence as a means to be heard.

Thomas Jefferson himself said 'The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.' The line between violence and nonviolence can be difficult to define due to the fact that both methods of protesting have had successful results in the past. However, freedom is not free and it must be fought for at whatever cost is. Through the use of violence dissent, it should not be used blindly, rather it should be organized with precautions and a plan.

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Violence and Nonviolence Movements: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from
“Violence and Nonviolence Movements: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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