Protesting 101

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American History, liberalism and progressivism

Long-time Mahablog readers probably have noticed I am ambivalent about protest marches and demonstrations. Even though I take part in them now and then, on the whole I don’t think they have much of an effect.

Ah-HAH, you say. The immigration marches just showed you. So why isn’t the antiwar movement marching all the time?

Good question.

Sometimes it ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it, that matters. Some demonstrations have changed the world. But in my long and jaded experience some demonstrating is a waste of time. Some demonstrating is even counterproductive. What makes effective protest? I’ve been thinking about that since the big antiwar march in Washington last September (when I suggested some rules of etiquette for protesting). I started thinking about it more after Coretta Scott King died, and I saw photos like this in the newspapers:

What’s striking about that photo? Notice the suits. Yeah, everybody dressed more formally back in the day. But it brings me to –

Rule #1. Be serious.

The great civil rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s should be studied and emulated as closely as possible. People in those marches looked as if they were assembled for a serious purpose. They wore serious clothes. They marched both joyously and solemnly. They were a picture of dignity itself. If they chanted or carried signs, the chants or signs didn’t contain language you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother.

The antiwar protests I’ve attended in New York City, by contrast, were often more like moving carnivals than protests. Costumes, banners, and behavior on display were often juvenile and raunchy. Lots of people seemed to be there to get attention, and the message they conveyed was LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT HOW CLEVER I AM, not NO IRAQ WAR. Really. Some street theater is effective — I am fond of Billionaires for Bush — but most of the time street theater is juvenile and tiresome and reminds me of bad summer camp skits. Except raunchier.

Which takes me to –

Rule #2. Be unified of purpose.

One of my ongoing gripes about antiwar marches is the way some groups try to tack their own agenda, which many others in the demonstration may not share, onto marches. International A.N.S.W.E.R. is a repeat offender in this category. Most of the marchers last September were in Washington for the sole purpose of protesting the war. But ANSWER hijacked CSPAN’s attention and put on a display so moonbatty it made The Daily Show; see also Steve Gilliard.

Message control is essential. During the Vietnam era, I witnessed many an antiwar protest get hijacked by a few assholes who waved North Vietnamese flags and spouted anti-American messages, which is not exactly the way to win hearts and minds –

Rule #3 — Good protesting is good PR.

I know they’re called “protests,” but your central purpose is to win support for your cause. You want people looking on to be favorably impressed. You want them to think, wow, I like these people. They’re not crazy. They’re not scary. I think I will take them seriously (see Rule #1). That means you should try not to be visibly angry, because angry people are scary. Anger is not good PR. Grossing people out is not good PR. Yelling at people that they’re stupid for not listening to you is not good PR. Screaming the F word at television camera crews is not good PR.

Rule #4 — Size matters.

Size of crowds, that is. Remember that one of your purposes is to show off how many people came together for the cause. But most people will only see your protest in photographs and news videos. More people saw photographs of this civil rights demonstration in August 1963 than saw it in person –

The number of people who marched for immigration reform over the past few days was wonderfully impressive. It’s the biggest reason the marches got news coverage. The overhead shots were wonderful. On the other hand, last September I wrote of the Washington march –

The plan was to rally at the Ellipse next to the White House and then march from there. Only a small part of the crowd actually went to the Ellipse, however. Most seem to have just showed up and either stayed in groups scattered all over Capitol Hill, or else they just did impromptu unofficial marches as a warmup to the Big March. … It would have been nice to get everyone together for a mass photo, but that didn’t happen. Too bad. It would have been impressive.

As I waited on the Ellipse I could see vast numbers of people a block or two away. The Pink Ladies had a big contingent and were busily showing off how pink they were — LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT HOW CLEVER I AM — but they seemed to evaporate once the official march started. (Re-read Rules #1 and #2.)

Anyway, as a result, there were no photos or videos to document for the world how big the crowd really was. You had to be there.

A sub-rule — IMO, an occasional REALLY BIG demonstration that gets a lot of media attention is way better than a steady drizzle of little demonstrations that become just so much background noise..

Rule #5 — Be sure your opposition is uglier/more hateful/snottier than you are.

In the 1950s and 1960s white television viewers were shocked and ashamed to see the civil rights marchers — who were behaving nicely and wearing suits, remember — jeered at by hateful racists. And when those redneck Southern sheriffs turned fire hoses and attack dogs on the marchers, it pretty much doomed Jim Crow to the dustbin of history. I think Cindy Sheehan’s encampment in Crawford last August, although a relatively small group, was such a success because of the contrast between Sheehan and the Snot-in-Chief cruising by in his motorcade without so much as a how d’you do. Truly, if Bush had invited the Sheehan crew over for lemonade and a handshake, the show would’ve been over. But he didn’t.

This takes us back to rules #1 and #2. You don’t win support by being assholes. You win support by showing the world that your opponents are assholes.

Rule #6 — Demonstrations are not enough.

It’s essential to be able to work with people in positions of power to advance your agenda. And if there aren’t enough people in power to advance your agenda, then get some. Frankly, I think some lefties are caught up in the romance of being oppressed and powerless, and can’t see beyond that.

Remember, speaking truth to power is just the first step. The goal is to get power for yourself.

Any more rules you can think of?

Update: I’ve posted a revised version of this post at Kos Diaries and American Street.

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40 Comments

  1. Tom  •  Apr 12, 2006 @3:28 pm

    What’s missing? A threat to families. The immigration rallies came about in part because the proposed laws threatened to make parents criminals for protecting their children and children criminals for protecting their parents. It would also destroy whole families if implemented.

    Segregation threatened families and the draft in the Vietnam era threatened families. Once the draft lottery came into being the pressure was off young men and they knew where they stood vis a vis the draft. It took the energy out of the anti-war movement though it had enough momentum to continue for a time.

    There is no direct threat to American families in this war. The military is made up of volunteers so it can be credibly pointed out that they “chose” to be there (untrue in reality as we know). The threat of the draft was a great unknown and it hung over everyone equally except for the very privileged (who never fight except by choice anyway) and the threat of the current immigration law in Congress is a great unknown hanging over the heads of millions of families in this country right now. It is one hell of a motivator. There is no equivalent threat embodied in “The Long War”.

  2. Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP  •  Apr 12, 2006 @3:35 pm

    Your list sounds right to me. I’ve actually been relieved that there hasn’t been all that much anti-war protesting compared to the Vietnam era (which I’m old enough to remember). The conservative counterrrevolution was based largely on opposition to the war’s opponents (and also to the civil rights movement). The 1968 Democratic convention gave a major push to Nixon’s eventual election; the televised images of goons throwing bags of urine at cops disgusted the country. ANSWER isn’t quite that bad, but their neo-Troskyite rhetoric is a huge turnoff for most people, and they often seemed to be exploiting ant-war sentiment for their own ends. The relative absence of such nonsense has helped turn the public against the Iraq war much more quickly than Vietnam.

  3. inthehighlands  •  Apr 12, 2006 @3:44 pm

    I like a lot of the points you bring up, and though I have only attended a few protests, they seem to be right on the mark from what I saw. The idea of a unified cause is one that has been sorely missing in those sponsored by Answer recently, and detract from the effectiveness I think. It’s too easy for people not there to point at the random kooks and say, those guys are nuts.

    When you’re talking about a massive protest to raise a voice against a matter as serious as nation-states and warfare, it helps to have serious and credible people leading the charge, and keep the sideshow speeches about Mumia and Peltier to a minimum (if nil). This is the sake of effectiveness, and to keep eyes on the prize.

    The carnival atmosphere is one that turns me off, and I feel like it infantilizes the reasons of people who have put a lot of thought into their decision to protest. Get the serious people upfront, and keep to a message. Even smaller protests, with a unified message and an interesting gimmick can be more effective that huge disorganized assemblies, like Billionaires for Bush or the Fighting Granny’s or whatever.

  4. occasional reader  •  Apr 12, 2006 @4:17 pm

    I think these are all good tactical suggestions for marches. However, I would add that while being outrageous in a big march is a bad idea, being outrageous and attention-getting and even offensive isn’t bad in itself and can even be effective in smaller direct actions. But, as you say, in the context of a great big honking rally, it muddies the message. I remember all too well being at the RNC protest in 2004 and being simultaneously (a) overwhelmed with how many people came (b) totally depressed, because I had no idea what we were doing there or what our message was.

  5. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Apr 12, 2006 @4:17 pm

    I agree with your rules, but a little theater is necessary to get the media’s attention and break through the wall of silence they have erected to protect the Boy Wonder from any criticism of his cluster-cheneys.

  6. maha  •  Apr 12, 2006 @4:19 pm

    a little theater is necessary

    What “theater” did Martin Luther King use? And what “theater” have the immigration marchers been using? They’ve gotten lots of media attention, but I haven’t seen much “theater.” It’s been the size of the marches that got attention.

  7. occasional reader  •  Apr 12, 2006 @4:24 pm

    But you identify precisely the theater they use! You even give tips based on this. What was the planned contrast between respectful marchers and vitriolic racists other than theater? The non-violent provocation of conflict is ALL ABOUT theater, about casting Jim Crow as the bad guy, etc. You say all this above. As the for the immigration marches, surely the narrative they tell with their newfound uniform of white shirts and American flags and chants of “USA!” are precisely the kind of theater that you’re calling for. ” “Theater” isn’t a pejorative term or a reference to street theater skits here; it’s just the ability to shape media narratives effectively.

  8. maha  •  Apr 12, 2006 @4:37 pm

    What was the planned contrast between respectful marchers and vitriolic racists other than theater? The non-violent provocation of conflict is ALL ABOUT theater, about casting Jim Crow as the bad guy, etc. You say all this above.

    Exactly. The “theater” is built into the event. You don’t have to put on some cheesy show to get attention.

    In New York City during the Republican convention it just got ridiculous. There must’ve been hundreds of independent “events” competing for attention. One group organized a vomitorium, for pity’s sake. I wandered around in the general area of Madison Square Garden one day and ran into several people in mildly lewd costumes and with anti-Bush signs trying to get tourists to take their pictures. This is not helpful.

    March together. Be dignified. Be serious. Be focused. That’s enough.

  9. Terry  •  Apr 12, 2006 @5:51 pm

    I agree with all your points, but note that youth being youth, one of the cardinal rules of protesting back in the 60′s and early 70′s was to know which way the wind was blowing so a)you could get away from the tear gas and b)so you could close up your dorm room if downwind. Actually, the effect of the civil rights marches vs. the Vietnam protests proves your points. For all the protests against the Vietnam War, it is highly debateable whether they changed anything for the good.

  10. Dave  •  Apr 12, 2006 @6:38 pm

    Rule #7: Vote, dammit!

    None of this matters if the government provoking the demonstrations continues to be controlled by Republicans.

    The Civil Rights Movement succeeded in large part because it helped to elect Democrats who agreed with its agenda.

  11. QrazyQat  •  Apr 12, 2006 @7:15 pm

    One thing that doesn’t get much mention today is that the big protests of the 1960s and 1970s, for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, took one hell of a long time before they really caught people’s attention. Years. We’re expecting protests now to get attention right away, just like a TV show nowadays gets 4 showings to grab an audience and it’s out. And of course we’re hoping that this war doesn’t go on as long as the Vietnam war did before the protests really got attention.

  12. lou  •  Apr 12, 2006 @7:58 pm

    The surprise appearance of these huge marches for immigration reform has also been a huge advantage for this cause. They had been unexpected and are therefore more impressive.

  13. Kevin Hayden  •  Apr 12, 2006 @8:32 pm

    No matter what your own beliefs are, it helps to have church leaders at the fore. Civil Rights marches did. And the Catholic Church did in the immigrant marches. They lend a moral authority that can rise above partisanship when done right.

    Also, non-violence is key. Not even aggressive shouting, nothing threatening should occur on the marchers’ side. You covered that well in discussing visible anger. And I think you nailed all the other key points, perfectly.

  14. maha  •  Apr 12, 2006 @9:06 pm

    Dave — I believe your suggestion for Rule #7 is already covered in Rule #6.

  15. alyosha  •  Apr 12, 2006 @9:31 pm

    This is a great guide and long overdue. It needs to gain a wider audience, you might think about posting it on DKos.

    I too have wondered about the efficacy of protests, having endured many marches that were little more than a party for the participants, what has come to be aptly called “vanity marches”.

    Your piece knowingly or not contains ideas Gandhi used in his confrontation with the British, which is not surprising since you probably know that Martin Luther King studied Gandhi.

  16. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Apr 12, 2006 @10:52 pm

    I just want to clarify that “theater” doesn’t mean the uncoordinated, self-indulgent behavior described in Maha’s comment #8. My point is that the media today is very reluctant to give publicity to any criticism of the Bush-Cheney regime. Witness the recent incident where Cheney was booed when he showed up at a baseball game, and the media initially suppressed the report that he was booed, then claimed that it was because he threw a pretty wimpy pitch when the truth was he was booed as soon as he appeared.

    My point is that a simple dignified march is all very well, but the media will say, “this is boring, we don’t have to cover it.” Some form of theater – without crossing the fine line into excess and self-parody – is necessary to get the media’s attention nowadays, and thus ensure that the public finds out the protest happens, and sees pictures from the event on TV. Because if it isn’t on TV, it didn’t happen. Sad but true.

  17. maha  •  Apr 12, 2006 @11:23 pm

    My point is that a simple dignified march is all very well, but the media will say, “this is boring, we don’t have to cover it.”

    But the immigration reform marches were covered nicely and mostly positively, IMO, and I didn’t see any “theater.” They were big marches and they also caught people by surprise, and that made them newsworthy.

    Since Katrina I don’t believe the media are nearly as reluctant to publicize anti-Bush news as they were before. What you say was true in 2003 and 2004, but I don’t think it’s true any more. Or not as true. Also, if you pull some stunt to get noticed there’s a danger that only the stunt will get covered, so that can backfire. There are other ways to make an event newsworthy.

    I guess I’m so sick of the self-indulgent behavior I don’t want to see any of it any more. Especially in big demonstrations if you allow any such thing there will be people who take it too far.

    One other problem the antiwar movement has is a lack of cohesive leadership. I don’t even know who our “leaders” are. There’s no one we all look to for direction, the way the civil rights movement looked to MLK. That’s hurting us.

  18. Cassidy  •  Apr 13, 2006 @12:51 am

    The significance of your point #1 of being serious and looking the part cannot be underestimated. A year ago, the need arose for me to make a public protest at a meeting of the State Board of Regents. These meetings give the impression that all the participants had Robert’s Rules of Order stapled to their foreheads shortly after birth. Public comments are verboten.

    I wore a nice suit, nylons, pumps, etc. I strategized with my friend to find an appropriate point in the agenda to rise. Two minutes after I stood up and started speaking I was physically dragged out of the room. Of course I apologized to the security guard, who was a really nice guy, and only doing his job. There was a flurry of activity with meeting participants, reporters, etc. coming into the room where they had taken me to discuss the situation.

    Finally, the Board invited me back into the room to make my brief statement at the end of the meeting. After I spoke, some of the regents even apologized for the situation that I and others had been seriously harmed by and that I had come to protest. Three local and two state newspapers had articles on the disruption, including the main comments. Good press for the good guys from a small but polite protest!

    A couple of months later, a gaggle of boisterous undergrads attended a similar meeting to protest a different situation. Their shouting and angry behavior got everyone thrown out of the meeting and one person arrested.

    We are serious, thoughtful, and kind people. We need to be sure the theater doesn’t make us (and our ideas) look clownish.

    The chickenhawks and their warmongering Christian supporters are already full of fear. We need to hold out a hand, not frighten them more.

  19. Donna  •  Apr 13, 2006 @12:58 am

    Maha, I really appreciate and agree with your rules…..sign me up to march in any event you organize against the war and/or for paper ballots.

    Here is my two cents worth…..the immigration reform marches were about real people willing to migrant to provide food and other basics for their families…..real people who were suddenly facing criminal and family-destroying consequences if the Sessenbrenner bill was enacted.

    Just as with Katrina, we again got a sobering reminder of the plight of the neediest folks among us.

    The simple basic-ness of ‘we march for fair treatment’ was so compelling in the immigration marches and does contrast a lot with ’boutique’ issues promoted by some higher-in-the-hierarchy folks who piggy-back themselves onto other protest marches.

    Heaven help us if continue to allow the incompetents in Washington to trash our future to the point where we all have to march for a right to earn a subsistence living.

  20. Gary Farber  •  Apr 13, 2006 @2:17 am

    No other rules, offhand, but a brief comment here.

  21. Gary Farber  •  Apr 13, 2006 @2:21 am

    Or here, even.

  22. Generik  •  Apr 13, 2006 @12:34 pm

    Excellent piece, and inspiraton for a post of my own. I’ve been to too many marches and demonstrations that were co-opted by those with an agenda far different from the one around which we were supposedly rallying, and it’s disheartening to say the least. I think these rules should be a blueprint for all lefty rallies in the future.

  23. maha  •  Apr 13, 2006 @1:08 pm

    Generik — I like your anecdote about solidarity with the Eritrean workers. Too true!

  24. Samiam  •  Apr 13, 2006 @1:52 pm

    So good to read this post, Maha. Very thoughtful and right on the mark. That photo says it all – and your analysis of it is what I have thought for years and was afraid that no one was picking up on anymore. (Maybe you remember some of my previous posts a few months ago?)

    Cassidy’s comment #18, last paragraph, is exactly where I’m coming from, too. Thank you, Cassidy! Thank you, Maha!

  25. uncledad  •  Apr 13, 2006 @11:51 pm

    Maha,
    Nice post, what a pleasure to read. I had not noticed your lack of demonstration coverage, oh wait. You have certainly made several very good points, six I think. But I fear you are just like me when it comes to demonstrating, we have jobs, and we don’t really like to complain when a lot of people are really listening. Rule #1-be serious, that pretty much covers rule #2, and #3. Plenty to be serious about but really no unified purpose for us comfortably satisfied citizens. Rule #4-Size Matters, I have to respectably disagree, not only because I’m Irish, but if size really mattered why would you write this blog? You write it because it’s good right? I wonder if the problem with demonstrations today is the way they are perceived by the media, and subsequently presented to the public. It’s a big news event that they can’t control. All they can do is try to somehow sensationalize it, cause be dammed. Did anyone see the student “riots” in France? That’s why I do all my demonstration watching on C-Span.
    Rule #5 well said nothing to add.
    Rule #6 Nothing is enough. Right?

  26. buckfush  •  Apr 14, 2006 @1:43 pm

    I have seen that people do not want to call companies and tell them why they boycott companies and ask for a progressive agenda, so then just avoid buying from these companies and spread the word. I will tell the Speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader and the CEOs of these companies listed below that their profits will silently lessen until an agenda listed on http://www.boycott-republicans.com gets acceded to by the Republican Party in a press conference and then passed by congress and signed by the pResident. So just do this and I will do the rest of the work for you. You have no petitions to sign, no phone calls to make, just stop buying products from these Republican contributors and to tell others as well to stop. Thank you.

    Walmart, Wendy’s, Outback Steak House, Dominos Pizza, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Eckerd, CVS and Walgreens, Curves for women health clubs, General Electric and Exxon/Mobil.

  27. CLAJR  •  Apr 14, 2006 @6:35 pm

    Although some of these are good suggestions, I
    disagree witht the writer’s understanding of how these
    things happen.

    For instance: civil rights marchers dressed more
    formally because that was their cultural norm. They
    weren’t dressing to impress (any more than they
    usually did.) You will never see a picture of Martin
    Luther King Jr. in a track suit or baggy shorts,
    because he never wore them. Our culture as a whole
    dresses less formally than it used to. Check out Las
    Vegas sometime.

    I’m not a fan of some of the more obscene street
    theater either (Missile Dick Chicks come to mind), but
    lots of people love it. Again, check out your local
    cable channel to get a grip on what “ordinary
    Americans” will tolerate in terms of vulgarity. Code
    Pink strives for creative, light-hearted, peaceful,
    and meaningful presentations that enliven people, not
    merely to draw attention to itself, though some of
    its leaders have come dangerously close to
    grandstanding. But I believe even they mean above all
    to put their asses on the line, not to personally
    promote themselves.

    And Code Pink never “evaporated” at the march in
    Washington. I was there. We stood in line for nearly
    two hours waiting to march, because ANSWER’s rally
    didn’t finish in time, thus bollixing up the whole
    schedule. UFPJ has publicly announced its decision not
    to plan any more large public events with ANSWER.

    Finally: truly meaningful demonstrations are just
    that: demonstrations of people’s feelings and
    opinions. So it’s really up to them what they want to
    express, be it joy, or silliness, or rage, or dignity.
    Nor are these mutually exclusive options.

    Though I believe some discipline is in order, I’m
    ambivalent about inflexibly staying “on message” for
    two reasons. One: I think its true that there are many
    issues involved in opposing the war, and that
    imperialism, racism, and unbridled globalized
    capitalism are serious, related issues that are hard
    to ignore. Even MLK broadened his scope towards the
    end of his life (something that probably contributed
    to his demise.) Two: I believe in “participatory
    democracy” wherein people develop their agendas
    through concensus, rather than a top-down message
    “discipline,” the principle of which leads inevitably
    to questions of enforcement. That’s not where I want
    to go.

  28. maha  •  Apr 14, 2006 @9:22 pm

    For instance: civil rights marchers dressed more
    formally because that was their cultural norm. They
    weren’t dressing to impress (any more than they
    usually did.)

    I’m old enough to remember those times well. People did dress up more in public, but ordinary working people didn’t go around in suits and their best dresses every day.

    I’m not a fan of some of the more obscene street
    theater either (Missile Dick Chicks come to mind), but
    lots of people love it. Again, check out your local
    cable channel to get a grip on what “ordinary
    Americans” will tolerate in terms of vulgarity.

    We shouldn’t be pushing the limits of tolerance. We should not be marching clowns. We need to be serious.

    And Code Pink never “evaporated” at the march in
    Washington. I was there. We stood in line for nearly
    two hours waiting to march, because ANSWER’s rally
    didn’t finish in time, thus bollixing up the whole
    schedule.

    Sorry, I was there, too. The march didn’t wait for ANSWER’s rally to finish; marchers mostly cleared off the Ellipse and assembled on the street as soon as Cindy Sheehan had spoken, which was about on schedule. The march was a little slow to get started because of the numbers of people.

    UFPJ has publicly announced its decision not
    to plan any more large public events with ANSWER.

    Yes, and that’s good news.

    Finally: truly meaningful demonstrations are just
    that: demonstrations of people’s feelings and
    opinions. So it’s really up to them what they want to
    express, be it joy, or silliness, or rage, or dignity.
    Nor are these mutually exclusive options.

    To an extent that’s true. In Washington, the march itself went pretty well; the foul-up was ANSWER’s little show that was being broadcast on CSPAN while everyone else was marching. But I don’t have any major gripes about the march. However, the march and some of the other demonstrations in New York City during the Republican convention got pretty rank. I’ve attended a couple of smaller demonstrations that were ruined because some people couldn’t behave properly.

    I’m not asking for robot-like rigidity, just more gravitas and dignity, less vulgarity and exhibitionism.

  29. samiam  •  Apr 15, 2006 @12:29 pm

    You are exactly right, Maha. Serious issues require gravitas and dignity if what protesters want is respectful attention for their concerns – especially where “authoritarian” types are concerned. Want the respect of the “parent” out there? Don’t act like a kid. Just be sure you fully understand your issue (pro and con) and try to understand the other side, respectfully in its entirety, so you can make that bridge to where they are whenever possible. That means no loss of temper and no belittling – even if the other side is out of control. Major lessons from MLK and Gandhi.

  30. Larry Bergan  •  Apr 17, 2006 @3:22 pm

    Lots of great points here. The most important thing about protesting is obviously organization, and I think people should act according to the organizers plans, but It’s also important just to show up and have fun. I personally think that’s what brought about the Soviet Union’s “rethinking” of their society far more then the “tear down this wall” comment. Militarism isn’t fun! The Hannity’s try to make it that way. Clever on their part, but it will fail in the end. The Soviet children wanted our rock n’ roll and freedom! Judging by the Kiev uprising over the American financed exit poll results there (you know how goofy those russian elections can get), they still have the fire burning. I guess white Americans haven’t suffered enough yet. I hope we notice that there is no effort to have exit polls HERE this time (you know how goofy those were last time)!.

    Concerning the idiotic, seemingly pointless protesters that show up, I personally think they are PAID to make all protesters look bad (protesting at funerals of gay people and soldiers, yelling at people getting married at the Mormon temple ect..). They know they’re going to get covered by the media which distains poor people. I saw the republican convention protest on C-SPAN and loved every part of it, even the black guy who was so mad, he was almost talking in tougues (almost as bad as Pat Buchanon). I know HE wasn’t doing it for money though. I do not own a gun and do not believe in violence! Then again I’ve never been shot at! Have to give the immigrants credit for restraining themselves.

  31. alau  •  May 3, 2006 @12:17 am

    This was a great post. You articulated the exact reasons why I don’t go to protests; I don’t think they work anymore for changing peoples’ ideas. Screaming maniacs are not going to change peoples’ minds about an issue.

  32. Elizabeth  •  May 4, 2006 @7:21 am

    Are you going to give this list to people in Nepal? France? Anywhere they do serious rioting?

    Sometimes the point of a riot is to show strength. It always is with the most important ones. Sometimes the point is revolution. (it’s not that far off, you know, it happened last week). And you think the problem is not dressing properly? If you want to convince people trought grace and charm and good breeding, you can write books or something. But to be as conservative as you are, I’m not sure you should be doing any rallying at all.

    “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governements. Governements should be afraid of their people.”

    You don’t get that through donning a suit and using “appropriate” language. And with you crazy people going around killing innocent people all around the world, you know, this is not a time for politeness and nice little outfits, you should be really really pissed off. God knows the rest of the world is (but you know, if those muslims just got this message “Wear a suit” “Talk politely”, they’d win those wars in a jiffy!).

  33. maha  •  May 4, 2006 @8:13 am

    Elizabeth: It’s about results, dear. Martin Luther King got results.The Black Panthers got marginalized.

    In the U.S. the people ARE the government. It’s a shame that both Left and Right in America tend to think of “the government” as some kind of alien invaders who must be entreated to do anything for us. But in the long run it’s popular support, not riots, that wins the war. In our history, mass protest movements became successful only when they achieved popular support among mainstream Americans. This has been true going back to abolition,at least.

    The early civil rights marches were extremely effective, in part because the movement under MLK won widespread sympathy and popular support among the majority of middle-class whites who hadn’t given civil rights for blacks much throught before. I am old enough to remember this very well.

    I also am a five-alarm American history buff, and I cannot think of a single cause throughout our history that prevailed because of rioting. Sometimes a movement wins in spite of violence. For example, John Brown didn’t free any slaves, but the cause of abolition won out eventually through events not of his making. The Vietnam War ended, but as one who lived through the era I assure you the only “result” obtained by the more extreme elements of the antiwar movement was support for Richard Nixon. Acts of violence, or mob action, sometimes gain short-term advantage, but hurt in the long run.

    In America, if the government were to cave in to a group of rioting students every politician involved in the surrender would lose his next election. And they know this. Maybe that’s not true in France, but it’s true here.

  34. Elizabeth  •  May 4, 2006 @3:12 pm

    Maha: In th U.S the election system is a sad, bad joke. You can not seriously be saying that you the people are the governement in your non-functioning democracy.

    The Black Panters got anahilated by drugs pumped into the ghetto by your governement (aka “the people”), executions and false convictons by this same “people”. The american civil rights movement did not get any leeway untill they used violence (against the governement/ “people” that diligently used violence towards them). Everything else is the american made myth where you think you live in Disneyland, and that “the governement is the people”.

    As for slavery, I do suspect an amount of violence involved in a period refered to as “civil war”, but that just me, dear.

  35. maha  •  May 4, 2006 @3:40 pm

    Maha: In th U.S the election system is a sad, bad joke. You can not seriously be saying that you the people are the governement in your non-functioning democracy.

    We’ll find out this November. I think the tide of public opinion is building up strongly enough that there aren’t enough Deibold machines in the world to hold it back.

    The Black Panters got anahilated by drugs pumped into the ghetto by your governement (aka “the people”), executions and false convictons by this same “people”.

    Not the whole story, as drugs were being pumped into the ghetto long before there was a Civil Rights movement, but let’s go on…

    The american civil rights movement did not get any leeway untill they used violence (against the governement/ “people” that diligently used violence towards them).

    Historical revisionism. What “violence” brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? What “violence” brought about Affirmative Action, introduced in 1965? Believe me, these things came about in spite of the Watts riots, not because of them. The movement itself remained nonviolent as long as Martin Luther King was alive.

    Everything else is the american made myth where you think you live in Disneyland, and that “the governement is the people”.

    If you don’t like it, don’t live here. I don’t think it’s a lost cause yet.

    As for slavery, I do suspect an amount of violence involved in a period refered to as “civil war”, but that just me, dear.

    And you are ignorant of history. THE SOUTH STARTED THE WAR, and they started it to preserve the institution of slavery. They’re the ones who started the violence, and they lost, and as a result white northerners became more sympathetic to abolition. So the Civil War proves MY point, not yours.

    Hint: I’m a Civil War history buff going way back and can argue you to death on this point if I want to. I’ve written about slavery and the Civil War already on this blog, most recently here, which you should read carefully BEFORE you presume to argue with me on this point.

  36. Elizabeth  •  May 4, 2006 @8:04 pm

    Maha: I do not live there. And I’m glad of it. That’s not the point, however. As long as you people keep insisting on interfering with the rest of us, calling the few countries that refuse you to station your soldiers on their soil “axis of evil” and warring against them. Staging coops in countries that whishes to democratically choose their own economic policy, occuping nations on bogus allegations, upholding trade-embargoes on contries that don’t submit to your bullying and arrogance, well, you can’t even try to insist that we should not have our opinion about your policies.

    Who started the civil war is definitely besides the question. It’s about resluts, dear. And you’re not trying to argue that the war did not imply violence. (of course the North could have tried the suit/politeness-stratagem. It would probarbly have worked wonders.).

    I’m not advocating violence (and, seriously, thank you for not implying it). I generally do not think it’s a good idea, and I generally do not think that it is normatively justifiable. Whether it actually, descriptively, *works* is another question entierly. But the question of resorting to violence and the question of “Let’s all wear suits and act like upper middle class” are two quite different questions. That the U.S. population considers the liberals as elite is a *big* problem for you guys already. I don’t think rallying in suits is going to solve it.

    Trying to devaluate peoples opinion with the frase “If you don’t think this is a democratic country, don’t live here.”, seems to me a perverse strategy of exlusion and unwillingness to actually have a democratic, open debate. But since you’re probarbly wearing a suit while writing it, it *must* be both serious and legitimate.

  37. maha  •  May 4, 2006 @9:02 pm

    As long as you people keep insisting on interfering with the rest of us, calling the few countries that refuse you to station your soldiers on their soil “axis of evil” and warring against them.

    I have dedicated a large part of my time and energy for the past six years opposing the Bush Administration, the war in Iraq, and any future military misadventures the Bushies might get us into in the future. These days I am doing this full time. As a small part of this effort I have taken part in several mass demonstrations in New York City and Washington. I am not opposed to speaking out.

    But you don’t live here. You don’t understand my country. The kind of demonstrating that might work in France backfires here. I’ve seen this time and time again. The antiwar movement against Vietnam — in which I took part — actually backfired and prolonged the war. I have seen this with my own eyes. And much of the demonstrating that is done here now is ineffectual because of the way it is done, which is the point of my post.

    Trying to devaluate peoples opinion with the frase “If you don’t think this is a democratic country, don’t live here.”,

    That’s not what I said. You don’t live in the UNITED STATES, which is not the only democracy in the world. I was responding to the palpable hate you feel for the U.S. when I said if you don’t like it here, leave. I’m not going to try to talk you out of what you feel. But you don’t understand this country at all. I know you think you do, but you don’t. That’s OK. As I said, you don’t have to live here.

    But don’t presume to dictate to us how we should work against the war, because if we did things your way, we would not only fail, we would ensure that the right-wing extremists running Washington right now will become even more powerful. I doubt that’s what you want.

  38. Elizabeth  •  May 5, 2006 @7:14 am

    I am actually beginning to form the opinion that European socialists should stop going to solidarity brigades in Guatemala/ Mexico/ Palestine/ Lebanon, those kind of places. We should concentrate our effort on the U.S. It all comes down to you guys, and it looks like you definitely could use some help. :)

    Or you could go with the suit thing.

    Good luck.

  39. maha  •  May 5, 2006 @7:47 am

    Don’t help us unless you live here for awhile and become acquainted with the right-wing whackjobs who run the place. There’s a well-entrenched distrust of all things foreign here. The word “socialist” is practically forbidden in political discourse because it sends a big chunk of the electorate running and screaming for the trenches. A pack of European socialists coming here to help us protest would inflame the right-wingers and persuade the moderates that we’re anti-American subversives. Even mainstream news media here paints moderately liberal democrats as flaming extremist communist loonies, and so the first hurdle we have to overcome is persuading people that we are not crazy, not extremists, and not unpatriotic before they will even consider what we have to say. Any displays of anger or vandalism set us back, and foreigners in our midst would just about kill the cause altogether.

    It’s nuts, but that’s how it is here in the “land of the free.”

  40. Chauncey  •  Mar 15, 2007 @12:01 pm

    I hope, as people rallying for a cause, we all agree on what we are trying to do. We are trying to gain passion for our shared conviction. The most effective way to do this is to inspire people. By inspiring others, we give them motivation to change. As we all know, changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. I have had a hard enough time adopting an exercise routine given to me by my physical therapist. What has moved me enough to cause me to dedicate my actions towards peace? I was inspired. I was inspired by leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Malcolm X. I was even more inspired by the non so called leaders around me. The compassion from my family and friends inspired me to try and extend that to the rest of the world.

    “FUCK BUSH!” sends a clear message suggesting disfavor, disgust, impatience, and ultimately Hate. If what you are wanting is to simply proclaim where you stand, I presume this as effective. However, if your disgust, impatience, and hate has matured into love, wisdom, and understanding— your heart is filled to its brim with the motivation to inspire others of your realization. You can do that by educating people from an approachable viewpoint. I completely understand and agree with your need to express yourself. Peace, Chauncey in WA (actingresidue@msn.com)

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