Dr. James Sikkema
27 March 2017
Peaceful Protesting as a Liberty
For years now, there has been an on-going conflict between the objectors of the North Dakota Access Pipeline and law enforcement. By attacking the protesters, law enforcement introduced legislations banning peaceful protesting, which is in direct conflict with John Stuart Mills’ One Simple Principle (also referred to as Harm Principle). Policies that criminalize protesting are illegitimate, and intrude upon the constitutional rights of the United States of America (U.S) citizens; specifically, rights introduced within the first amendment. This paper will reflect upon the legitimacy of peaceful protesting (provided it remain within the classifications of Mills’ Harm Principle), and the illegitimacy of legislations banning peaceful protesting, as it not only silences citizens, but infringes upon their rights.
“[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (On Liberty). This statement made by Mills is an introduction to his One Simple Principle, which proposes that liberty is respected, but only to the extent that it does not harm others (Mills 134). In this context, harm refers to anything that damages one physically or mentally. This includes one’s mind, body, and property. In the case of the North Dakota Pipeline protest, the objectors were peacefully protesting; something that causes no harm to others. At most, peaceful protesting may be viewed as a nuisance. The pipeline protesters were described as non-confrontational, but defiant, by the County Sheriff, Kyle Kirchmeir (Macpherson). The ultimate purpose of this protest, as with most protests, was to provoke a response from the authoritative figures. This goal was accomplished; however, the response was not what the objectors had hoped for. Despite protesting peacefully, causing absolutely no harm to others and ultimately pushing trying to defend the environment, protesters were attacked and silenced by law enforcement, simply for being a nuisance. According to Mills One Simple Principle, law enforcement was completely unjustified in their actions, as no harm was caused by the protest, therefore making it a legitimate form of protest.
Furthermore, Mills proposes that there are certain scenarios in which causing harm to others may be justifiable. This includes instances in which one is ultimately preventing harm to others (133). In other words, it is acceptable for one to harm another only if that person is going to harm another person, or society as a whole. In the North Dakota Pipeline protest, the tribes argued that the placement of the pipeline is a threat not only to water and cultural sites, but to the surrounding wildlife as well (Macpherson). Similarly, the Standing Rock objectors feared not only losing their rights, but losing the well-being of the land. The placing of...