As massive anti-racism protests erupted across the US (and the rest of the world as well) we had yet another public conversation about the value and significance of riotous actions within protests. My own social media environment is very progressive and supportive of the protests, but even there I saw some disagreement, as some folks argued that rioting was valuable and significant, and others argued that it was not a significant part of the mostly peaceful protests.
After about a week, the latter view seemed to win out, especially in light of the much more significant violence perpetrated by the police themselves. “The Police are Rioting. We Need to Talk About It” is an article title that about sums it up. At this point I feel like I’m addressing the topic too late. But there’s one argument that stuck in my head.
This one argument justified recent riots by comparing them to the Stonewall riots. In the US, June is Pride Month, which originated as a commemoration of the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall riots clearly demonstrate the potential value of violent protest. On the other hand, the history of Stonewall is heavily mythologized, and there is a danger of drawing the wrong conclusions based on fiction.
Today I’d like to discuss a scholarly article: “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth” by Elizabeth A Armstrong and Suzanna M Crage (via belowdesire, who has many other informative articles). And I do recommend reading the entire article yourself if you have the time. By examining the history we can better understand the potential–and limitations–of riots.