“It is never OK to coerce people’s participation; that is just bullying.” So wrote Lauren Victor last week. Victor is a US Black Lives Matter supporter who has participated in many BLM protests. She is also the woman who, in a video that went viral, refused to raise her fist when a group of BLM supporters invaded a restaurant in Washington DC and demanded that all diners do so. Why did she not comply? “I wholeheartedly support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Victor wrote. “However, I also support an individual’s choice to participate in a protest or not.”
It is a distinction that too many seem not to understand. There is a difference between protesting against injustice and coercing people to believe what you do or to act in the way you think they should.
Take last week’s action by Extinction Rebellion activists, blockading access to three printing presses owned by Rupert Murdoch. “No Times today, and no Sun: no Murdoch trash. No Telegraph either; we blockaded them too, for their continuing lies & distortions on climate (and Covid),” tweeted XR spokesman Rupert Read.
There is nothing wrong with protesting about the views of any newspaper, whether on climate change or Covid-19, or in challenging coverage of any issue. There is, however, something objectionable to take it upon oneself to decide what others should be able to read. Disruption to the papers may have been temporary, but the idea that one should censor unacceptable political opinions is a permanent problem.
At the heart of any struggle for justice is the willingness to build a movement by persuading people of the righteousness of one’s cause, not by coercing them to change their views. “If you want my support,” as Victor put it, “ask it of me freely.”
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist