Legitimacy comes from the popular mandate and if you lose your mandate than you have just lost the power to govern. Protests are what keep would-be dictators up at night around the world.
Thankfully protesting is as American as apple pie. The right to protest is a civil right protected under the First Amendment, it has been an important part of the fabric of American life since Independence.
Long before the Bill of Rights was written, Americans were on the streets protesting injustice. From the Boston Tea Party to Women's Suffrage to the Civil Rights march on Washington to the Stonewall riots, America's history of protest is long and transformative because protests work.
Not every protest is popular, of course. Women were regularly beaten by outraged men in the early part of the 20 century for daring to ask for the right to vote. The LGBT community were often brutalized by the police for demanding their rights. It's important to remember too just how unpopular the Civil Rights movement was in the 1960s too.
These days Martin Luther King Jr. is heralded as an era-defining American leader, but back in the 1950s and 60's he was being surveilled by the FBI and had been since 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott (which also introduced the world to Rosa Parks).
For decades Dr. King was seen by Washington as a dangerous radical, not an elder statesman or American icon. The white public tended to agree too.
It's a rare man or woman who can see beyond the place where they are currently standing, but Dr. King knew his work put his life on the line, and in his last public speech on April 3, 1968, he remarked: “(God has allowed me) to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land...”
He was shot dead the next day. His prediction that he might not live to see the changes he had helped to bring about proved all too true, but so had his foresight. We are still on the long march to the equality he once envisioned.
The current Black Lives Matters protests are not popular among some sections of the press and public for the same reasons that prevailed in the '60s. That's an understatement. The right-wing press spend most of their time in search of scare quotes from the most radical extremists they can find, implying that fringe voices are the only voices of this national movement.
This is of course a blunt attempt to delegitimize the entire movement. Look at these nut-jobs, the headlines direct you, they have no case. They are just coming for your communities and your "suburban housewives." So the racist playbook really hasn't changed that much since the era of George Wallace.
But what Black Lives Matter is asking for isn't scary, it's actually quite simple: an end to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. They'd like it if the police would stop killing them in disproportionate numbers and with disproportionate violence too. That's really not a radical ask, that's a basic call for justice.
Most Americans know that it is, too. I mean, would you volunteer to swap places with a Black family, including working for their lower incomes, their lack of access, and their diminished opportunities? If you say no then you have just admitted the longstanding racial disparity. You'd have to be blind not to see it.
Donald Trump says that all protesting should be made illegal. In 2018 he said he thought it was “embarrassing for the country to allow protestors.” But interestingly he didn't think protesting was so embarrassing when the hundreds of Neo-nazi's he called “fine people” invaded Charlottesville with their flaming torches, although he was deeply outraged when quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee.
I realize everyone is watching the Dem convention, but this just happened https://t.co/bBzdPthwbT— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) August 21, 2020
You should pay attention when a powerful leader wants to dismantle your first amendment rights. When an American president challenges your right to assemble by sending military police to attack peaceful protestors with rubber bullets, flash grenades, and tear gas, it's a monstrous violation of our American traditions.
Or when a powerful leader promises to send law enforcement agents to the polling stations to harass and intimidate and prevent voting on November 3 - and Trump has plainly stated he intends to do that.
Using military-grade weapons of war to treat protestors as illegitimate intruders instead of American citizens is a gross violation of the American Constitution. We now have a leader who has crossed that red line, so we better prepare to resist his attempts to cross all the others soon.
Taking away our post boxes and our mail sorting machines and closing our local post office branches early is another national attack on a basic Constitutional right, the right to vote.
We all know that he's coming for this hard-won freedom, and we all know why, so we all better be prepared to protest nationally soon.