A person holding a sign by their legs that reads, "Silence is violence."

The History of Policing Political Dissent

“I can’t believe I have to say this,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib said during the proceedings to censure her in Congress, “but Palestinian people are not disposable. We are human beings just like anyone else.”

On Nov. 8, the House of Representatives voted 234-188 to censure Tlaib in a resolution that accused her of promoting antisemitic rhetoric (HillPolitico). The resolution claims Tlaib has been “promoting false narratives” following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel since she criticized President Biden and Israel following the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, whose responsibility has been contested and remains inconclusive, then joined calls for an independent investigation into it. The resolution holds that Tlaib “defended” terrorism (you can read her statements since Oct. 7) and called for the “destruction of the state of Israel” (she defended the politically charged, pro-Palestinian rallying slogan “from the river to the sea”). 

censure resolution is a form of public discipline and admonishment in the House. Before expulsion, it’s used to show the House’s disapproval of a member’s behavior and maintain the “dignity” of the institution. 


Call Congress to demand a ceasefire now and an end to the genocide in Gaza. 

• Boycott companies profiting from the genocide in Gaza

•  Email your elected officials in the U.S., Canada, or U.K. to take action against the war and humanitarian crisis in Sudan. 

Call your elected officials and the UN to stop the war and genocide in Tigray

• Share your opinions with your House Representatives regarding the censure of Rep Tlaib. 

• Take 10 minutes to make calls and send emails opposing Cop City.

This was the second time Tlaib faced a censure resolution over her criticism of Israel and the U.S. government’s support of genocide in Gaza. Though the initial attempt failed, both resolutions and some of their supporters leveraged Islamophobic language to attack the only Palestinian American member of Congress and one of the few elected officials calling for a ceasefire. 

Silencing and condemning political dissent in the U.S. is customary. The second censure was issued in 1842 against abolitionist Rep. Joshua Reed Giddings for violating the House gag rule against discussing slavery during proceedings. Athletes and celebrities have been told to “shut up and dribble” or blackballed when speaking out about racial and social injustice. Activists and revolutionaries have been arrested, “disappeared,” or died under mysterious circumstances. And from the Palmer Raids and COINTELPRO to the Black Lives Matter movement and Standing Rock protests, government agencies like the “FBI had engaged in covert efforts to infiltrate, discredit, and sabotage the anti-war and civil rights movements” (The Intercept). In particular, anti-war movements have been met with arrests and increased state violence throughout U.S. history in order to quell criticism, break resistance, and restore order (History). 

In U.S. political discourse, “Dissidents are celebrated as heroes when they struggle against oppressive political regimes. In democracies, however, dissent is all too often seen as a dangerous force that undermines stability, order, and the rule of law” (Georgetown Journal of International Affairs). This is why we repeatedly see agents of the state, like the police and the National Guard, sent out against the people who are challenging the state or status quo. It’s as if unmasking an institution’s injustices is more worthy of condemnation than the injustice itself. 

The backlash against criticism of the United States is leveraged more harshly at people of color or immigrants who are seen as “hyphenated Americans” (NPR). Any form of civil disobedience or criticism by them is marked as illegitimate or dangerous. See the House’s response to Rep. Tlaib vs the lack thereof Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Dissent is important for democracy. It forces us to re-evaluate the current system and make necessary changes that benefit and empower us all. To censure or police it instead of addressing the content of the political dissent is an affront to democracy. 

As author and professor, Roland Bleiker wrote:

“Anarchical, disruptive, and at times violent, the protest element is certainly the most contentious aspect of the movement. It also illustrates, however, how dissent can challenge institutionalized relations of power and, by doing so, generate public debate and perhaps even enforce a certain level of accountability otherwise impossible in a global realm that lacks viable democratic institutions. Arguing so is not to deny the importance of democratic institutions but to stress that without periodic political challenges, existing forms of governance tend to establish, uphold, and mask practices of domination and exclusion” (Georgetown Journal of International Affairs). 


• The policing of political dissent is often used to avoid accountability by institutions invested in maintaining the status quo.  

• Not all political dissent and criticism are prohibited or seen as dangerous.

• Dissent is necessary for a democracy to represent all those who live under it. 

1920 1280 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture.

All stories by : Dominique Stewart
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