We cannot let political differences dissolve into violence
© Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This week, convention season begins with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, followed by the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. In light of this year’s unusual and polarizing election thus far, emotions are expected to be running high in both cities as attendees — and likely protesters — gather to make their voices heard. This is a good thing. It is democracy in action.

And if people are angry about what they have seen in this election, they have a right to be. As Latinos, we have seen our community targeted by candidates for office at the highest levels of our government. Mexican immigrants have been called “rapists,” “criminals,” and “drug dealers.”

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We have had leaders in our community, including New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and California Judge Gonzalo Curiel, disparaged simply because of their ethnicity. The rhetoric has too often been ugly and offensive; demonizing millions of people is unacceptable.

It is no wonder that thousands have participated in protests around the country. And the protests and speaking out are likely to continue. But I want to be sure that as we exercise our right to speak out as residents of this great country, we do so peacefully, respectfully, and with dignity.

To do so honors the icons on whose shoulders we stand today. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez both practiced nonviolence. From them, we got the roadmap on how to protest. They taught us the power of the sit-in, the boycott, the fast, and notably, of the march.

It is thanks to their embrace of nonviolence and the impact it had on their fellow Americans that they were able to accomplish all they did for our communities and our country. It is why they are remembered and revered today while those who incited violence have been forgotten in the dustbin of history.

At a time when we continue to see incident after incident of senseless violence, the need to reaffirm our support for nonviolence has never been greater. King and Chavez were not blind to the anger of their fellow protestors and they knew and understood that the temptation to respond with violence is strong.

They often had to convince their own followers not to attack back when they had been violently attacked themselves. They were successful in stemming retaliation because they persuaded their colleagues that a violent response is not strength, it is in fact weakness that only results in more violence.

Nonviolence is not passive and it is not about “taking it.” It is about taking action and standing up for ourselves in a way that is positive, constructive, and moral. As such, Chavez believed that that “nonviolence is more powerful than violence because there is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence.”

And nonviolence is what NCLR has believed in and advocated for over the last 50 years. We have marched, we have fasted, we have picketed, and we have boycotted, but always in a way that reflects our strong belief in America’s core values.

My predecessor served as a volunteer at the March on Washington in 1963 and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We worked with Cesar Chavez and continue to work with his organization, the United Farm Workers of America. These civil rights icons and paragons of nonviolence have been our guide stars throughout our history.

We want people to exercise their right and obligation to engage in our political process. But we want them to engage constructively and effectively. In short, we want everyone to act, participate, and vote. But we want them and urge them to do so in peace and with respect for others, especially those with whom we disagree. Because violence is never the answer.

Murguía is President and CEO of NCLR (National Council of La Raza)


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.