Rutgers Journal of Law & Religion
Deborah J. Cantrell, Transformative Silence and Protest, 22 Rutgers J.L. & Religion 83 (2021), available at https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/articles/1552.
Social movement protests have become common place in the last several years. Images come easily to mind of protestors marching down streets holding signs and chanting. Just as easily, images come to mind of counter-protestors yelling back, and law enforcement engaging protestors, often trying to control them with notable force. This Article recognizes that protestors often engage with speech, silence and the law in very pragmatic, but important ways. How does a locality handle permitting for protests? Are there noise restrictions to know about? How likely will it be that law enforcement will be present and making arrests? If there are arrests, who will post bail? While those practical choices are important, focusing on those choices often means that protest gets framed as being about speech rights—who gets to speak and how, and who gets to control speech and how. That framing obscures that protest is as much about silence as it is about speech.
That is true because protest is a deeply relational activity and choices about speech always involve choices about silence—or silencing. Similarly, the law is deeply relational as it sets up ways to order how people can, or cannot, engage and interact with each other. This Article posits that more carefully investigating the relationality involved in protest work unearths a new and powerful dynamic—transformative silence. The Article considers how transformative silence can upend the typical zero-sum qualities of protest, and can increase the possibility that protest can lead to social change.
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