Banning or restricting protest silences necessary dissent and closes off an avenue to shine a light on injustices, to get the attention of government officials and the public. The role of any public servant is to listen and respond to the concerns of all the citizens we serve, particularly those whose voices and perspectives are marginalized. In cases where people are dismissed, silenced or blocked from seeking change at the ballot box or through a breakdown of other democratic norms and institutions, protest may be the only means to effect change. In those cases, peaceful acts of dissent or civil disobedience can be enormously powerful.
It’s also important to recognize, however, that not all protests are successful at prompting change. I expect that those who gathered outside my home also felt shut out from power when they screamed at me that night. But showing up at my home to shout falsehoods about an election because they didn’t like the results did not help their cause. Many were there because they’d been lied to, told by people with immense power — including the departing president — that the 2020 election was “stolen,” though it was not.
Days later, a colleague told me of hearing that Mr. Trump had suggested in a White House meeting that I should be arrested, charged with treason and executed. (After I discussed this on NBC News recently, a spokesman for Mr. Trump accused me of lying.) These protesters attempted to bully me into abdicating my duty to protect the will of the people of Michigan. But the people who made me fear for my family that night also emboldened me to do my job with integrity.
In national coverage of the incident, people saw an angry group, some of them armed, outside the home of a woman and her young son. A month before the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, it was an early and alarming demonstration of how far some were willing to go to try to undermine a fair election.
A protest’s success is partly a matter of its effect. The march in Selma made a huge difference to the country. The bullying outside my home failed miserably.
The success or failure of the abortion rights protests outside the justices’ homes isn’t clear. They were cheered on and defended as peaceful by many who were similarly upset by the Supreme Court’s likely new position on Roe v. Wade. But still, the targeting of individual officials at home opened the protests up to criticism, which distracted from their important cause.
I will always advocate the power, and critical importance, of peaceful protest, which is a right that must be protected, even if it means protesters can sit peacefully or shout menacingly outside the homes of elected and appointed officials like the Supreme Court justices — or me and my family.