Should I protest?


Dear Nicole,

For us it’s personal. Hillary Clinton is a Vineyard person, after all. It’s not much of a consolation prize, but let’s at least name her as an honorary Islander. Beyond that, it’s hard to know what to do. I am feeling ambivalent about all the protests that are happening. I don’t know if I should head to Boston or New York and take part. Any thought on whether we should be hitting the streets to protest the election?

Confidentially yours,

Still with Her

Dear Her,

Yeah, so … nice try, but you will not succeed in passing the buck on this. I’m not foolish enough to tell you what to do. You already know, in your head or your heart (or both), what’s right for you. Please seek the courage of your convictions within yourself, not in a newspaper column.

However, since this is an “etiquette and ethics” forum, I will take a stab at advising you on the etiquette and ethics of how (or how not) to go about doing whatever you decide to do. If you don’t have time to read this whole column and just want a takeaway, here it is: Do not stoop to the tactics of the people whose tactics you find reprehensible.

For the record, anyone who thinks there is one clear, obvious, uncomplicated path to tread in the coming weeks and months and years is fooling themselves. There isn’t. I am both unqualified for and uninterested in trying to declare a universal “truth” here. (My own views keep adjusting, so this might all be outdated by print time. Life is such a work in progress.)

There are a lot of voices needing to be heard. If your response to the previous sentence is, “I can’t think of anything that needs to be heard,” then you’ve just demonstrated how Yankee Smug you are. I know enough about Yankee Smug (it’s possible I’ve had an occasional bout of it myself, back in the day) that I’m not going to bother trying to change your mind, because you’re not listening to me anyhow. Let us know how that complacency thing works out for you.

I believe it is a person’s ethical duty to stand up for their beliefs and values when those beliefs and values are seriously threatened or imperiled. There now, doesn’t that statement sound grand? Actually, it’s almost meaningless because it’s so vague. In its vagueness, it’s potentially dangerous, as it can be interpreted in so many different ways — some of which justify violence, which I would never condone. And yet my words, in their lack of specificity, could be taken to condone violence.

That’s why I am a big fan of specificity. God and the devil are both in the details. “Protesting the election” isn’t very specific. “X is bad! We are anti-X!” is less interesting than “Here’s why X is wrong, here’s what needs to be done to right X, and here’s what we’re doing to make sure that happens.” Making noise without having a game plan is fine; in fact sometimes the act of noisemaking, all by itself, is a powerful agent for change. But noisemaking is easier to dismiss or even deride if it has no actionable agenda to ground it. So if you want to a) make noise and b) have it taken seriously by the powers that be, maybe consider protesting something specific. “Activist” doesn’t just mean “person who takes action” but “person who demands action.” Do you want to work for change or do you want to blow off steam? I’m not judging your decision, but I do think you should be aware that these are two different things (which can under certain circumstances happen simultaneously — but not always).  There are plenty of ways to work for change that are less showy than demonstrations. For ideas, check out

Also, I believe it’s our ethical duty not to gratuitously railroad or harm bystanders while defending our values of non-harm. An acquaintance of mine was at the Farmers Market in Union Square (New York).  An anti-DJT protest came through. It blocked the customers (an anti-DJT cohort) from giving their business to the struggling small business farmers who rely on that income to pay their largely immigrant workforce. A protester (a young white male, FWIW) — assuming my friend was pro-Trump simply because he was expressing sympathy toward a farmer whose livelihood was being affected negatively by the protest — was aggressively insulting toward him.

That protester is carrying a lot of pain and fear, and he has the right to express that pain and fear … but not by attempting to elicit pain and fear in a total stranger. (Especially since, given the setting, that stranger was almost certainly of his stripe. But that’s a parenthetical comment, which is why I have put it in parentheses.) The chief point is: Paying your angst forward, onto strangers, knocks all those karmic brownie points right off your report card. Do not stoop to the tactics of the people whose tactics you find reprehensible.  

That’s my take.


Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to