The times, they are a changin’. They have already changed . . . a lot. The definition of a peaceful protest has changed. And I guess that’s not strange. Because the Bible tells us that in the latter days lies will be considered truth and truth considered lies. People will call evil good and good evil.
I’m in my office. It’s in an almost empty building in a city still paralyzed by the virus from China and by a mayor’s acquiescence to rioters. In these changing times, truth is concealed and lies are flaunted.
Actually, they are not just flaunted. They are being created out of whole cloth, given preeminence in the New York Times, and treated with awe and reverence by the Pulitzer Center. Like lies about “mostly peaceful protests.” As one of my favorite authors (and heroes) Melanie Phillips entitled her book, “the world is turned upside down.”
Horrific Persecution Calls for Protests
But back to the subject. When I first came to the Institute on Religion and Democracy I was exposed forever to the horrific persecution of religious believers globally — especially, and by largest margin, Christians. I became a protester. And I became quite adept at protesting, if I do say so myself.
But boy oh boy, was it difficult to convince most church members to protest. Even for such an important cause. Some would protest (no pun intended), “that’s not my calling!” Others would opine, “Christians should stay out of politics.” Hmmm.
I think many were having flashbacks to the violent, Marxist-inspired protest demonstration of the Sixties, with visions of Kent State and “Hell no! We won’t go!” Our protests were nothing like that. But most of what’s happening today sure is.
Around 1999, my colleague and friend, Nina Shea, and I started a campaign for mobilizing Christian colleges to fight against genocide and slavery in Sudan. We thought that would be a no-brainer! Christians/college students seemed like a winning combination for protesting.
Students hailing from both Christian and secular colleges were concerned. They loved hearing stories of daring from incredible Caroline Cox, the Baroness Cox. They promised to pray. But to our surprise, at least in that generation of Christian college students, not as many as we had imagined wanted to go the “no justice, no peace” route.
Dozens of Protests in Dozens of Places
Nevertheless, whether it was three or four of us, or hundreds, we protested. In those early days and even in more recent years I have participated in dozens and dozens of such protests.
At The White House, most of our protests were at Lafayette Park, recently desecrated by ‘peaceful’ protests of BLM/Antifa. By marching with signs and chants we sent messages to Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump (we have always been equal opportunity protesters) about Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, North Korea, Iraq, China, and elsewhere.
But we also once took to the Esplanade, the Constitution Avenue side of the White House. This was to protest the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and his LRA rebels in northern Uganda. We walked from there to the U.S. Capitol, lines of hundreds, tied together at the wrists like Kony’s abductees/child soldiers.
What We Wanted
During these protests we urged the U.S. government to incorporate provisions for defending religious freedom into mainstream U.S. foreign policy. We wanted them to:
- Pressure Sudan to stop genocidal jihad against and enslavement of black, African, largely Christian Sudanese and give autonomy to South Sudan
- Provide Special Envoys for Sudan and North Korea (today, Nigeria)
- Protect House Church Christians, Falun Gong members, and others in China
- Push Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws
- To declare Christians victims of genocide by ISIS
- And so much more
We also expressed our solidarity with the victims of horrific religious persecution in other venues. For instance, I’ve:
- stood shoulder to shoulder at the Sudan Embassy, the Canadian Embassy, the Iowa State Capitol, and the U.S. Capitol with Sudanese and South Sudanese friends. Some of these had been redeemed out of jihad slavery, others had seen family and friends sliced into pieces by shrapnel from dropping bombs or shot by janjaweed militia.
- participated in or organized personally prayer vigils for the persecuted. These included one in Philadelphia, one in Denver, and our week long State Department vigil for Sudan in 2002.
- demonstrated at the Chinese Embassy against repatriation of North Korean escapees, in front of the Iranian interest section (no embassy since the Islamist Revolution) for missing and murdered pastors in Iran, the Embassy of Afghanistan for a convert sentenced to death for apostasy, and so many others.
- marched with Copts from The White House to The Washington Post, to protest both Obama and the media’s collusion with Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Morsi.
- helped led the original #BringBackOurGirls protest at the Nigerian Embassy, and a later rally for Leah Sharibu at the U.S. Capitol.
We have also held protests at the Saudi Embassy, Squire Patton Boggs (but I repeat myself), the Coca Cola Building, the Washington Monument, the Wallenberg Memorial at the U.N., and on and on. But wherever we protested, and for whatever cause, one thing was and is true.
Every Protest Was Peaceful
All these rallies were to protest horrific human rights violations on a massive scale, extreme religious persecution, unjust arrests and imprisonments, current, that is, ongoing slavery, and genocide. And all of them were peaceful. Not CNN-defined peaceful. Actually peaceful.
We stood, and continue to stand, with people whose immediate families — not their ancestors — were and are starved to death, burned alive, beheaded, imprisoned, disappeared, gang-raped, stolen from their villages and made actual slaves by actual racist Arab Sudanese, bombed, executed, and harvested for organs.
Did these protesters ever burn a car? Did they ever break a glass storefront window and loot a store? Did they ever beat, or even threaten to beat someone on the street? No! They never broke a window. They never even broke a bottle.
The furthest thing from their minds would be to loot and steal or destroy other people’s property. That is what is done by the jihadists, the genocidaires, the Communist regimes, the armed rebel terrorists, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, Machar’s White Armies (1991 & 2013), and other evil ones.
Protesting with Dignity and Solemnity
The most violent actions we ever took were to shout “Down, down Bashir” and “Omar Bashir to ICC” at the Sudan Embassy. And in front of The Washington Post, while newspaper staff stood peering out of windows at us as if they were under siege, we just showed them enlarged photos of Coptic Christians murdered in the Maspero Massacre in Cairo, exclaiming “Shame!” Of course these same news people today lionize the “mostly peaceful” protesters tearing down statues, looting stores, and attacking the police.
That is how you protest peacefully and lawfully. When you protest at The White House or some other federal land, you request permission, you fill out an application, you appoint a protest “captain” who carries the approval certificate, and you stay within the bounds of the area for the protest. When you protest at an embassy or in front of say, Squire Patton Boggs (there should be more of that, just saying), you remain civil.
If you intend civil disobedience, you may want to let the authorities know. (I always had on my speed dial Sgt. Kaczinski, of the Secret Service Uniform Division, who are in charge of embassies, to let him know how many people wanted to trespass and be arrested.) And you accept the consequences of your actions if they are illegal.
I am so proud of my friends from Sudan, South Sudan, East Turkestan, Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, India, China, North Korea, and elsewhere. If anyone has a right to be angry about injustice and oppression, it is they. If anyone had justification for resorting to violence because of the trauma they have endured, it is they.
But they don’t. They express their cause with dignity and solemnity. They appreciate not just the freedom they have in this nation to protest peacefully, but all of the freedoms of living in America.