Protest is Different

Jessica L. West *

Sometimes dramatic, sometimes mundane, acts of civil disobedience bring attention to issues that have recently included climate change, policing, and high school closings.[1] In the United States, we are surrounded by protest. The stories of these protests capture deep aspects of the human experience and our relationship to government power.[2] These stories often involve a confrontation between the protester and the law. Popular media is full of stories of protesters who have stepped over the law: the news article regarding a nun who served seven years in federal prison for pouring a vial of human blood on a Trident missile silo;[3] the movie about an environmental protester who broke up a federal lease auction;[4] the business journal report on the $20 million cost to the city of Baltimore for the police overtime and cleanup as a result of protests.[5]

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*   Associate Professor of Law, Vermont Law School. This article is dedicated to members of the generations on either side of me: my parents and my children. Vocal anti-war and civil rights activists, my parents’ activities etched into my young mind the power of protest. My children, Anaya West and Chloe West, themselves activists with a strong sense of justice, give me hope for the future.

[1].    See, e.g., Sarah Berger, Ferguson Protests Arrests: Cornel West, DeRay McKesson, Johnetta Elzie and Osagyefo Sekou Arrested In St. Louis, Int’l Bus. Times *Aug. 10, 2015, 4:29 PM), http://www.ibtimes.com/ferguson-protests-arrests-cornel-west-deray-mckesson-johnetta-elzie-osagyefo-sekou-2047082; Hal Burton, Shell Icebreaker Moves Out as Protesters in Portland Dangle From Bridge to Block It, Seattle Times (July 30, 2015, 7:27 AM), http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/protesters-in-portland-rappel-off-bridge-to-block-shell-icebreaker; Lauren Fitzpatrick, Dyett High School Supporters Arrested After City Hall Sit-In, Chi. Sun-Times (July 29, 2015, 11:02 AM), http://chicago.sun times.com/news/7/71/833430/dyett-high-school-supporters-arrested-city-hall-sit-in.

[2].    See Andy Merrifield, The Enigma of Revolt: Militant Politics in a Post-Political Age, in The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticisation, Spectres of Radical Politics 279, 290 (Japhy Wilson & Eric Swyngedouw eds., 2014) (“Perhaps it’s possible to draw up a list of ‘archetypes of dissent’ . . . that symbolise . . . some innate disposition to make trouble, to dissent and protest, to revolt against the structures of modern power . . . .”).

[3].    See Linda Stasi, Exclusive: 84-Year-Old Activist Nun Imprisoned in Brooklyn Jail Hellhole for Breaking into Nuclear Facility, Exposing Security Flaws, N.Y. Daily News (Jan. 19, 2015, 2:30 AM), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/exclusive-nun-84-brooklyn-jail-hellhole-activism-article-1.2083481.

[4].    See About the Film, Bidder 70, http://www.bidder70film.com/#!about/cee5 (last visited Dec. 1, 2015).

[5].    Yvonne Wenger, Unrest Will Cost City $20 Million, Officials Estimate, Baltimore Sun (May 26, 2015, 7:11 PM), http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city /bs-md-ci-unrest-cost-20150526-story.html.