I began growing up at a time in which protest was suppressed by a Democratic senator from Wisconsin.
Later, I saw the re-birth of “protest” in rallies, attended by few at first, to “ban the bomb.” I still remember seeing Pete Seeger standing on top of a car, leading several hundred people in song.
I saw “protest” grow far beyond “ban the bomb,” into pro-Civil Rights and anti-(war in) Viet Nam demonstrations. I marched with hundreds of thousands of people on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, more than once. I can’t remember now whether we were marching downtown or uptown. But that’s a detail with which all-but-scholars become annoyed at any pre-occupation.
I stood at the steps leading up to a plaza in front of the Pentagon. On the plaza were hundreds of armed soldiers. One “demonstrator” in the crowd shouted at, “We didn’t come here to sit on our a…..s, we came to storm the Pentagon.” Which wasn’t the case at all. We’d come to protest peacefully and non-violently. Those of us in front, closest to the soldiers, sat down, thereby preventing the others from ascending the steps onto the plaza. Years later, I was told by a former gov’t employee that the man shouting in the crowd had probably been a governmental agent provocateur, who was hoping to provoke a riot that could later be blamed on the demonstrators.
I say all this because underneath it all is the principle: Don’t accept wrong. Protest it and change it if you can.
Religion seems to teach something else: Don’t resist. Accept whatever happens as G-d’s Will.
That acceptance and non-resistance, if done sincerely, can produce an incomparable peace of mind.
That’s why Marx called religion “the opiate of the people.” It makes you feel good, but permits you tolerate something you shouldn’t have to tolerate.
It comes up over smaller issues, too. We pay good money for a product or service in the “faith” that it will work properly and that the store or company will abide by the warranty if it doesn’t or refund our money if they’re unable to do so.
More than once, I’ve found that not to be the case, as I’m sure most other people have found, too.
At that point — Do I accept it as G-d’s Will that I paid a few hundred dollars (or more) for a product or service that turned out to be unworthy of the expense? Or do I protest furiously and angrily, demanding that I be compensated for my loss?
A tzadik might do the former, radiating the peace that acceptance brings.
I’m not a tzadik, myself. Not at this time. Perhaps not ever. But I strive to grow in acceptance of the Divine.
At the same time, I’m profoundly uncomfortable with being treated unfairly.
In the end, I’ve found myself resolving the “machloket” with myself by saying that protest is OK, if by doing so, it will help save another person from the problem I faced. At the same time, I make a conscious attempt to accept G-d’s Will rather than allow the injustice to justify my becoming inappropriately angry or resentful. Even if the situation warrants it, the angry feelings don’t do me any good and don’t do anything in themselves to improve the situation.
Positive action, done dispassionately, is another matter and a preferable alternative. Further, if done for someone else’s sake, rather than my own, I believe that it could even be a mitzvah.
But it should be done lovingly and respectfully.
The person who does wrong is as worthy of G-d’s Love as the victim.
Their wrong is ultimately between them and G-d.