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What is “The Conversation?”

During the Free Speech protest in Portland.
After the Free Speech protest.
During the Free Speech protest.
After the Free Speech protest.
Police presence during the Free Speech protests.
Police officer during Free Speech protest.

There’s no getting around it – protests are disruptive. They board up businesses, clog up city streets, and cause clashes between police and protesters. Protests heighten tension between different groups and sow unrest among the general population.

So why do we like them so much?

To be sure, protests offer the opportunity for different groups to voice their opinion. They are an essential part of democracy, and are a rough and sometimes violent way for “the people” (as vague as that term is) to be heard. Protests, when done right, are clearly necessary to the American system. But these reasons are rarely brought up when people talk about protests. Instead, when defending protests, politicians and activists fall back on the most tired phrase in American politics.
“We are trying to spark a Conversation.”

What is this elusive “Conversation” that seems to be the Trump card of every demonstrator justifying violence in the streets. I sure haven’t seen it. I have seen plenty of conversations, but I have never seen THE “Conversation.”

Take the free speech demonstration that occurred this past Sunday as an example. Within the thousands of protesters and counter-protesters and presumably counter-counter-protesters, I failed to see a single discussion that didn’t devolve into a third grade name slinging contest. By listening to the protesters, I was surprised to learn that both sides were in fact nazis who hated freedom.

I doubt these screaming matches are the “Conversation” that seems to be espoused by activists. So this begs the question – what is the “Conversation?” To me, the “Conversation” seems to be more along the lines of a conversion. A discussion only becomes the “Conversation” when a person of the opposite side is converted to the truth, whatever that is.  

I have two problems with this.

Firstly, this conversion seems to be nonexistent during these protests. I can assure you that not one of the Trump protesters, seeing the signs calling them a Nazi, decided to put on a black mask and join up Antifa.

Secondly, this means that the term “Conversation” is basically nonsensical. When protesters use it, they don’t actually want a discussion about the issues. They want more people on their side. They hide this understandable but base motivation under a mountain of pretty words like the “Conversation.”

So journalists shouldn’t ask why people are protesting. Instead, we should ask why people want to start a “Conversation.” Maybe then, we can start to actually understand the goals and motivation behind political movements.

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