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Violence is a somewhat mindless blind reaction against what is and resorting to violence reveals the frustration of those who have been fighting for a cause without success. Terrorism is on a different level. It is more strategic and is the ultimate weapon of groups that wish to destroy a government or a ruling paradigm and set up something entirely different. Violent dissent expresses frustration and is perhaps the last gasp of a group that still wants to reform the system.


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Terrorism is an attempt to utterly destroy the system. No, it is not uniquely American.

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Dissent has existed from time eternal and throughout the world. But it is a concept that Americans valued so much that we put it in our constitution as a right and we have been dissenting and refining dissent ever since.

Ralph Young & Claire Potter | Dissent: The History of An American Idea

In fact, dissent itself was one of the forces that brought about the creation of the United States, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights itself. True, some dissent is a manifestation of the class struggle, but it is not limited to class. There are thousands of middle-class, even upper-class, dissenters. So dissent can be a manifestation of far more divergent points of view.

What would you say are some of the biggest triumphs of dissent in America and the biggest disappointments or failures? Some movements had a great deal of success, like the labor movement in the s, but much of that success has been rolled back since the s.

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Have the active protest aspects of dissent such as rallies and marches permanently given way to more passive activities still such as legal action and armchair clicktivism hitting a like button to support a cause or are we just going through a phase? In some ways the Internet and social media have diminished attendance at protest rallies and marches, but in some ways social media has also increased attendance.

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I would say the jury is still out on the impact of social media on protest movements. Throughout history dissenters have always employed the latest technology to get out their message: radio, television, song, poetry, mass-printed sources like posters and flyers, etc.


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  • Some would argue that modern dissent is less about life and death struggles and more of a lament against first world problems. Would you agree or disagree and why? Dissent has never had to be about purely life and death struggles. In some cases, like with the abolitionist movement, yes.


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    • But in other cases it has primarily been about forcing the United States to live up to its part of the bargain. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution established highly idealistic principles that have not always applied to all people. During the roughly year history you examine in the book, many of the root causes of dissent—race, gender and economic inequality, religious differences, whether or not to fight wars and even police violence—are recurring themes.

      Does this repetition mean that we are not learning from history and are therefore doomed to repeat past mistakes? Do we ever learn from history? There are lessons, to be sure, that history can teach us. But these issues are central to human nature. Does the passage of time make it easier to judge the motivational integrity and the results of dissent? The Revolutionary War resulted in the foundation of the United States and so we can interpret and evaluate its motivational integrity far better than we can Occupy or Tea Party since these are still unfolding.

      The irony, though, is that interpretations of the past are fluid, they are still changing. Historians have analyzed and critiqued the motivations of the Founding Fathers ever since the creation of the United States.

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