Is ‘Good Trouble’ Good Strategy?

Oliver Mills
The term “Good trouble” was made popular by the late civil rights leader John Lewis.

According to one source, it suggests standing up to authority for what you believe in. Standing up for yourself under a wail of attacks and abuse by bullies, and being assertive in defending and protecting your rights.

The idea of “Good trouble” comes from the philosophy which states that when you see something that is not right, fair, or just, raise your voice about it. Do something, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.

But does good trouble mean rule breaking, going against the norms of society? Does the word ‘trouble’ in “Good trouble” implies that the term means something that is bad, or uncivil? Or is it that the word “Good” cancels any evil suggestions out, and instead refers to acts that are noble, righteous, being in the interest of a good cause, by promoting justice, fairness, and equality among citizens?

Is resistance by slaves against those who exploited them a form of good trouble, even though it challenged the legitimacy of the official state, and the plantation, resulting in their freedom?

The “Good trouble” philosophy would say this is justified, since the system was based on treating people in a less than humane way, depriving them of their rights. The slaves stood up for themselves and against injustice. They therefore got into good trouble. Necessary trouble.

And what about civil rights marches, and those currently aimed at the actions taken against black men by the police in the USA? What about the Black Lives Matter movement designed to place Black issues at the centre of civic debate in a peaceful way? Is this not good trouble, since the organization is being assertive in defending and protecting basic human rights?

If citizens feel their government has wronged them, and they challenge the State to recognize its responsibilities towards all its citizens, is this not good and necessary trouble?

And does “Good trouble” radically change rules, or rewrite them? Does the idea encourage rule-breaking, or is it really a strategy aimed at radically transforming existing, unfair rules?

Is standing up to authority because we have certain beliefs sufficient justification to engage in good trouble? Is “Good trouble” not a contradictory term, since fomenting trouble cannot be described as something good in a strict sense?

In politics, is “Good trouble” involved when a political officer in a major party contests the leadership of the head of the sitting government with a view to himself or herself becoming the head of government?

What is the wrong to be made right? What is the legitimate justification? What rights need to be protected? Even if a document weakly implies that the leadership could be challenged, where is the ethical basis for it? The desire for personal power is not an aspect of “Good trouble.” “Good trouble” is about being noble, and transcends individual interest. It is the exercise of universally acclaimed principles over personal ambition.

Is “Good trouble,” on the surface, really a peaceful political strategy, or tactic as one writer suggests? And is Good trouble really necessary trouble to make his country and the world a better place, according to John Lewis?

The point is, “Good trouble” as a philosophy involves a strategy which is confrontational, and encourages a physical response by law officers. This means being beaten, arrested, and imprisoned. Also, marching is a political act which could invite others bent on attacking people, and destroying property. The scenes resulting from this can indeed look unpleasant.

Could a different philosophy be formulated which results in change being more peaceful, and humanity being more caring and compassionate?

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