I’m reading Derrick Bell’s Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protestor, and there is much that is wise here. Some quotes from his work I am reflecting upon:

Protest that rescues self-esteem: “Often, the desire to change the offending situation, which is often beyond our reach, may be an incidental benefit and not the real motivation. Rather, those of us who speak out are moved by a deep sense of the fragility of our self-worth. It is the determination to protect our sense of who we are that leads us to risk criticism, alienation, and serious loss while most others, similarly harmed, remain silent.”

Passivity not always wrong: “This book does not aim to convince readers that a passive response to harassment and ill treatment is always wrong, a confrontational one always appropriate. Few, of any, of us could survive in modern society by challenging every slight, every unfairness we experience or witness. I do believe, though, that most people are too ready to accept unwarranted and even outrageous treatment as part of the price of working, of getting along, even of living.”

The protester’s dilemma: “The protester, while seeking always to carry the banner of truth and justice, must remember that the fires of commitment do not bestow the gift of infallibility. Even the most well-meaning can err in the mission of good, can worsen conditions they seek to reform. An important part of the challenge of confronting authority is to recognize human limitations in all these things, consider them along with the risks, and then, despite all, move forward and face powers greater than your own.”

Every act of protest equally threatening: “I have learned that those in power regard every act of protest—whether against the most mundane rule or the most fudamental principle—as equally threatening. […] What is most heretical, though, is that, in every case, the protester asserts the right to have a meaningful—as opposed to token—voice. That is what those in authority resist so desperately.”