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Protesting 101

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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Protesting 102

American History, big picture stuff, blogging

(Please note I’ve turned comment moderation on; the spam is back.)

Sara Robinson at Orcinus has written a lovely commentary on my old Protesting 101 post from 2005.

Unfortunately, several of Sara’s commenters don’t get it. I think they’re still caught up in the romance of being Outcasts and Rebels, and Speaking Truth to Power, and are not serious about taking and using power to effect change. A couple of random observations:

The point of a protest is not to change the minds of politicians but to gain public sympathy for a cause. It’s a change in public sympathy that eventually brings about changes in politics and policy. With this in mind, I cannot emphasize the Bigger Asshole rule enough. Protests are effective when the protesters make the people they are protesting look like bigger assholes than they are. Gandhi, for example, made the whole British Empire look like assholes. But when the protesters come across in public as a pack of assholes, the public will just write them off as, well, assholes, and usually will sympathize with the Powers That Be. This is not the effect protesters want to achieve.

There’s nothing magical about getting arrested as a form of protest. It’s fine to be willing to be arrested, but getting arrested in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t have much in the way of public sympathy before you were arrested, then the arrest will have no significance. People will just think “good; they jailed the son of a bitch.”

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Metta Sutta

Bush Administration

There are new reports today that soldiers fired automatic weapons into crowds of protesters in Burma, killing several people.

[Update: The Buddhist Channel has hourly updates.]

Seth Mydans writes for the New York Times:

The government of Myanmar began a violent crackdown on Wednesday after tolerating more than a month of growing protests in cities around the country. Facing its most serious challenge since taking power in 1988, the ruling junta is attempting to contain the uprising by the tens of thousands of monks protesting economic hardships and the political repression of the military junta.

Security forces have clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, fired shots into the air, or according to an Associated Press report today, into a crowd, and arrested hundreds of the monks, who are at the heart of the demonstrations.


Government security forces in Myanmar cracked down for a second day today on nationwide protests, firing shots and tear gas, and raiding at least two Buddhist monasteries, where they beat and arrested dozens of monks, according to reports from the city of Yangon.

Further casualties were reported today, following at least half a dozen deaths on Wednesday.

Andy Sullivan has a good roundup of information. See also eyewitness accounts at Time.

The battle for Shwedagon began in ferocious noonday heat. The authorities had locked the gates of the pagoda, Rangoon’s most famous landmark, by mid-morning to prevent the monks who had led the weeklong demonstrations against Burma’s military rulers from gathering. Police and soldiers guarded the entrances. The eastern gate of Shwedagon is where thousands of monks would otherwise exit to start their march into downtown Rangoon. But today, hundreds of soldiers and riot police blocked their way.

By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded and the riot police charged. The monks and others fought back with sticks and rocks. Many others ran, perhaps four or five of them bleeding from minor head wounds. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, some protesters claimed — and then there was the unmistakable crack of live ammunition: the soldiers were shooting into the air.

Then, later,

A pause came upon the battle. The monks regrouped at a nearby monastery to march downtown. But first came a chilling display of the people’s anger — and the monks’ moral influence. A man on a motorcycle rode up. Motorcycles have been banned in Rangoon for years, ever since — the story goes — the paranoid generals fear being shot by assassins riding one of them. Most people on motorcycles are therefore assumed to be spies.

Thus sensing an enemy, the mob pounced. The man was pulled off his bike and set upon by students and people armed with wooden sticks. “Beat him!” they cried. “Kill him!” Quickly, the monks intervened and ushered him away to the safety of a nearby monastery. The mob, however, set upon his motorbike with clubs and rocks, smashing it to bits.

Also in Time — this is something I didn’t know, but should have.

The junta that runs the country imposed a systematic name change several years ago, decreeing that Burma was to be called Myanmar and the capital Rangoon was to be Yangon. The opposition has never accepted these changes; neither has the U.S. government. TIME continues to use Burma and Rangoon.

Bullshit alert — this is from an editorial in today’s Washington Post,

The United States and the European Union acted with admirable cohesion and aggressiveness yesterday, calling for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council and asking it to consider sanctions.

That’s “aggressiveness”? Excuse me while I mutter incoherently for a bit.

The Western governments issued a blunt joint statement that condemned the violence and told the Burmese generals they would be held individually accountable for their actions. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was eloquent: “The whole world is now watching Burma, and its illegitimate and repressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account,” he said. “The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over.”

The editorial goes on to blame China and Russia for blocking international action against the Burmese regime.

Yesterday, Russia and China prevented the Security Council even from condemning the violence against protesters. In effect, they are giving the regime a green light for brutal repression.

At the Guardian, Simon Tisdall also criticizes Russia and China, but says no one’s hands are clean.

Among western countries, Britain may be said to have prime responsibility as the former colonial power. But while regularly calling for democratic renewal, it has consistently rejected calls by Burmese exile groups and campaigners for tougher measures to isolate and weaken the junta.

As a result, an arms embargo and asset and travel restrictions on regime members have not been followed up by targeted economic and financial sanctions and trade and investment bans (such as those now being deployed against Iran).

Britain has increasingly taken refuge in the EU’s “common position” on Burma, as has also been the case in its policy towards Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, instead of showing a lead.

Since most EU member countries have few historical, economic or cultural ties with Burma, the result has been a minimalist European policy with scant impact on the generals.

And then there’s us:

The US has imposed sanctions and White House said this week that additional punitive measures would be taken. But the Bush administration’s decision to put Burma on its list of “rogue states”, and make it a target of its global democracy promotion campaign, may have been counter-productive.

Neighbouring states, including those of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) are embarrassed by the antics of Burma’s tinpot dictators.

But they are even more strongly averse to any appearance of being bullied or coerced by the most unpopular US administration in living memory. Washington’s leverage in the region is at low ebb, partly because of its own mistakes and hubris and partly because of the rising influence of China and India.

And the United Nations:

Attempts by Asean itself to modify the Burmese regime’s behaviour have been little short of pathetic, undermined by the important trade links countries such as Thailand and Malaysia maintain with Rangoon.

Yet the record on Burma of the UN itself, the home of the “international community” and its ostensible executive arm, is little better.

It has allowed the generals to obstruct, patronise and humiliate a succession of its envoys, some of who simply quit in disgust. Even now, the current envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, is unsure of being allowed into the country.

As Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International in the UK, pointed out this week, international law, including a range of treaties and covenants on human rights, torture, displaced persons and freedom of information and movement, is being grossly flouted in Burma as it is in many other parts of the world.

Western countries, particularly the US in the conduct of its “war on terror” and its occupation of Iraq, have become increasingly – and objectionably – tolerant of such abuses since 9/11.

Western governments are right to condemn the repression in Burma. But for the most part, their actions, inaction and indifference have strengthened the generals – and they should take their share of the blame for what is happening now.

Joerg Wolf at Atlantic Review calls the WaPo editorial a “lame self-congratulation editorial on democracy promotion” —

The West — in particular the United States — likes to portray itself as the promoter of democracy and human rights around the world, but there was no support for the democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma. And that is good. The monks and democracy activists would be discredited, if they received support from abroad. Democracy has to come from within. The West should not exaggerate its contribution. Calling for a Security Council session is easy. Getting Chinese and Russian support for a UN resolution is more difficult and the West has failed in this regard.

Besides, rather than just threatening the regime with more sanctions, it might be more sensible to offer economic aid on the condition that the regime starts democratization in addition to the threats. Providing incentives and threats is better than only threats. Past sanctions did not work. Providing incentives might not work either, but it is always worthwhile to extend an olive branch.

See also this editorial from the Los Angeles Times and this BBC video.

* * *

For me, it’s particularly moving to hear (from Andy Sullivan) that the protesting monks of Burma chant the Metta Sutta (sutra of loving-kindness) as they march.

This is the way of those who are skilled and peaceful, who seek the good and follow the path:

May they be able and upright, straightforward, of gentle speech and not proud.
May they be content and easy wherever they are.
May they be unburdened, with their senses calm.
May they be wise and not arrogant.
May they live without desire for the possessions of others.
May they do no harm to any living being.

May all beings be happy.
May they live in safety and joy.
All living beings, whether weak or strong, old or young, man or woman, smart or foolish, healthy or disabled, seen or unseen, near or distant, born or to be born, may they all be happy.

Let no one deceive or despise another being, whatever their status.
Let no one by anger or hatred wish harm to another.

As parents watch over their children, willing to risk their own lives to protect them, so with a boundless heart may we cherish every living being, bathing the entire world with unobstructed and unconditional loving-kindness.

Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, in each moment may we remain mindful of this heart and this way of living that is the best in all the world.

You’ve got to admit, that’s a step up from “Buck Fush.”

I’m accused sometimes of being opposed to protesting and direct action, most recently by this guy, because I’ve criticized the way some protesters conduct themselves. I’m not against protesting; I’m against protests that are as serious as sideshow carnivals. I’ve had it with people dressing up in silly, often vulgar, costumes to call attention to themselves. I’m tired of participating in antiwar protests in which large numbers of people are pushing opinions, many of which I do not share, on issues other than the war. I’m weary of aging adolescents who still think “Buck Fush” is clever. See Protesting 101, and also this vintage post from the late, great Steve Gilliard, who described standard leftie protest behavior as “the spoiled child, tone deaf approach to politics.”

For guidance on how to protest, study Gandhi, study Martin Luther King, study the Burmese monks. This is how it’s done.

The Metta Sutta (or sutra of loving kindness) is from the Tipitaka, or Pali Canon, which is the oldest collection of teachings of the Buddha. The many texts within the Tipitaka are said to be the actual words of the historical Buddha as memorized and chanted by monks until it was written down three or four centuries after the Buddha’s death (ca. 483 BCE). Of course, it’s possible that what the monks chanted was inaccurate, just as it’s possible the historical Buddha was nothing like the way he is remembered. But it’s good stuff, anyway, so in a way it doesn’t matter who said it.

Note to this misguided person (I’m trying to be nice): The phrase “saffron robe” comes from a practice of the original order of monks. They were allowed only two possessions, a robe and a bowl. The robe had to be made from “pure cloth,” meaning cloth that no one else wanted. So they made their robes from cloth that had been used to wrap corpses. This cloth usually had an orange stain from the spices used to cover the odor of decomposition. Hence, “saffron robe.” As for the monks coming up with a better “game plan” — the same game plan worked pretty well for Gandhi. In the short run peaceful resistance looks ineffectual, but in the long run it often gets better results than insurgent warfare.

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Million Moran March

Obama Administration

Sunday’s “Million Vets March” turned into an impromptu Klan rally at the White House gates. Reports say a few hundred people (although in the videos show a much smaller group), including non-vets Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, participated, waving a Confederate flag and hurling racist epithets to get their point across — their point being, apparently, that they are impossibly stupid and bigoted assholes.

Comment I saw on another site yesterday — The new motto of the GOP should be “We throw temper tantrums like a 2-year-old. And we vote!”

House baggers think the rally was a “game-changer” that will give their side momentum. If my Bigger Asshole Rule holds true, the House baggers may be disappointed.

Josh Marshall:

Spurred by outrage at the closure of federal war memorials they demanded be closed along with the rest of the federal government, the crowd symbolically ‘stormed’ two closed memorials and then headed to the White House where at least one Confederate Flag proudly flew and far-right gadfly Larry Klayman, who has of late been calling for an uprising to unseat the President (scheduled for Nov. 19th), told the crowd to “demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”

The protesters, some of whom appeared to be actual veterans, took barricades that had been placed around war memorials and piled them up in front of the fence around the White House. Seeing a possible threat to the perimeter, police came in to protect the fence and be sure the protesters stayed outside White House grounds. (Not unreasonable, after one of the speakers had just “figuratively” threatened the President.) An even bigger temper tantrum ensued. “Looks like something out of Kenya!” yelled one “vet.”

As Tommy Christopher pointed out at Mediate (link above), police usually are tolerant of protests outside the White House as long as nobody messes with the fence. When tourists so much as climb on the base of the fence to get a better view, they are firmly told to get down. It was obvious from the video at Mediate that the cops weren’t trying to shut down the protest; they were protecting the fence. See more videos at the NBC Washington affiliate.

Some of the vets were sincerely upset about the war memorials and the disruption of some of their services. If you are among these, here’s a clue for you:

If you are angry about the closure of the government, including the barricading of war memorials, do try to grow a brain and pile the bleeping barricades up outside the bleeping Capitol Building, not the White House. Congress is responsible for this mess, not the President. By allowing yourselves to be duped into marching against the White House, you were being used by political forces that do not give a bleep about your memorials or your benefits and would happily scrap both in exchange for bigger tax cuts for billionaires. Way to go.


Update: Brian Beutler:

Conservatives see Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz and imagine a national groundswell — not the two widely loathed politicians who bespeak the House GOP’s total isolation so exquisitely. They believe the latest small crowd of white conservatives protesting the closure of war monuments (which would be open had they not shut down the government) will upend the whole debate and reverse the tide of public opinion against them.

Or at least they believed it.

Moments after the story overtook nearly every significant conservative news outlet in the country, the narrative those outlets were trying to create ran headlong into the reality that the constituency for continuing to fight overlaps significantly with the constituency that bemoans the outcome of the War of Northern Aggression.

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Rick Perry Is the Bigger Asshole

Obama Administration

Most of your know my Bigger Asshole theory of effective protesting, but here it is again — in a confrontation between protesters and those being protested, whichever is the bigger asshole loses. That’s because the goal is to sway public opinion, and public opinion will turn against the bigger asshole.

Today Texas Gov. Rick Perry stepped into a big ol’ pile of assholery in a speech to a National Fetus People Conference:

PERRY: In fact, even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters.

Yes, Mr. Oops has taken it on himself to lecture a woman about what she should have learned from her life experiences, experiences that he himself never had. The Patriarchy speaks.

(I believe I speak for many women when I say that nothing pisses us off more than a man lecturing us about what we should think based on his notions of who we are. It dismisses us as less than persons. It’s the male chauvinist equivalent of the antebellum plantation owner saying his nigras jus’ loves the massah.)


Rick Perry is very disappointed that a grown woman doesn’t understand her own life and experiences in exactly the same way he and the attendees of the National Right To Life Convention do. First he defines what her life means, and then sorrowfully recounts how she just hasn’t learned the right lessons from his definition of her life.

Y’know, it’s a wonder that man can walk and talk and dress himself, going through life as he is with his head shoved up his ass. Digby and Shakesis also, um, comment. However, somebody needs to explain a few things to Jonathan Chait. He ain’t gettin’ it.

In the short run, the bill Wendy Davis blocked on Wednesday will almost certainly pass into law eventually. And wingnut state legislators will continue to pass transvaginal ultrasound requirements and defund Planned Parenthood and find ways to close clinics for the wommenfolks’ own good, you know. Because they can’t leave well enough alone (see previous post about GOP crack).

But in the long run — well, I do believe I feel the turning of the tide. And I’m not alone. See:

On Wendy Davis, the Supreme Court, and Speaking Out As Women

Wendy Davis’ abortion law filibuster may be a ‘Texas Spring’,0,6885101.story

Wendy Davis, Feminist Superhero

Wendy and the Boys

Yes, Rick Perry and the Texas troglodytes will pass their bill. Please proceed, governor. This is just getting started.

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Only in Degree

Obama Administration

A few days ago rightie bloggers were having apoplectic fits over an exhibit at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. The exhibit include a brief video clip showing ants crawling on a crucifix, and this was taken up as a Cause by Faux News and by Bill Donohue of the Let’s Make Catholicism Look Ugly League. Glenn Beck complained that taxpayer money had funded the exhibit, although it hadn’t.

After GOP congressional leaders, including John Boehner Eric Cantor, called for defunding the Smithsonian, the offending clip was removed.

Frank Rich writes about this episode today. The video was made in 1987 by an East Village artist named David Wojnarowicz after he was diagnosed with AIDS. Frank Rich explains,

Christ figures in Wojnarowicz’s response to the plague — albeit in a cryptic, 11-second cameo. A crucifix is besieged by ants that evoke frantic souls scurrying in panic as a seemingly impassive God looked on.

Wojnarowicz died in 1992, at the age of 37.

Today the righties are outraged, and not without cause, about a Stockholm suicide bombing. The bomber was, news accounts say, protesting the publication of anti-Muslim cartoons and the war in Afghanistan. (Since the perpetrator is not around to explain himself we have to guess, but some question the official explanation)

Any attempt to suppress free expression by threats or bullying ought to be condemned. However, righties, that means any attempt to suppress free expression by threats or bullying ought to be condemned. That means your attempts, too.

Righties will complain that they don’t kill people over cartoons, or artwork. No, they only kill people for providing medical services. And when rightie terrorists bomb abortion clinics, they do so from a safe distance so that only other people are injured. I suppose that makes them less savage, somehow.

Bottom line, though, is that Islamic extremists and our home-grown U.S. Right are only different in degree. Both sides are bullies; neither side respects the freedom of speech of others.

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Wingnut Baiting for Fun and, Well, More Fun

Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The wingnuts are in a froth that anyone objected to Rush Limbaugh becoming a St. Louis Rams owner. They are genuinely upset that anyone would accuse Rush of racism. Imagine.

And I missed Countdown last night, when Keith Olbermann made Michelle Malkin a runner-up in Worst Person in the World.

Runner up, Michelle Malkin. Maybe it‘s her. When this Obama song stupidity broke in New Jersey last month, with elementary school kids there singing about the president, author Sharice Carnie Nuenez (ph) says she got an e-mail from Malkin reading, “I understand that you uploaded the video of school children reciting a Barack Obama song/rap at Bernice Young Elementary School in June. I have a few quick questions. Did you help write the song and teach it to the children? Are you an educator or guest lecturer at the school? Did you teach about your book, “I Am Barack Obama” at the school. Your bio says you‘re a schoolmate of Obama. How well acquainted are you with the president?”

That was at 6:47 in the morning. By nighttime, Malkin and the lunatic fringe had decided Carnie Nuenez was responsible for the song and whichever plot their fevered little paranoid minds saw behind it. She received death threats and hate filled voicemails, all thanks to the total mindless, morally bankrupt, knee jerk fascistic hatred, without which Michelle Malkin would just be a big mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it.

Ms. Carnie Nuenez had nothing to do with the song. By the way, the fringe is out protesting at the school again, scaring the kids. Exactly the way that psychotic pastor protests at military funerals.

The wingnuts are not dealing well with calling Their Michelle a “big mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” That’s unfair. I’ve seen her in photos a lot, and I don’t think she’s always wearing lipstick.

But, y’know, it’s gotten really easy to yank their chains these days, hasn’t it?

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The Summer of Love

News Media

Senator Barbara Boxer said “Impeachment should be on the table” on the Ed Shultz Show, 7/11/07.

I just received an email/press release from Boxer, mostly about the Defense Authorization bill, now before Congress:

In the opening of an unprecedented, two-week debate on the Iraq war, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today spoke out on the Senate floor and challenged those who have made statements against the war to follow it up by voting for real, binding measures to bring our troops home.

(And here I must gloat a bit, I’m not only a Boxer constituent, but I also live in Henry Waxman’s district. I’ve lived in other parts of the country where I mostly cursed or rolled my eyes at the people who represented me, and so I’m extremely aware of how fortunate I am to have people like Boxer and Waxman working for me. I took the advice of the great conservative hero, President Ronald Reagan, who advocated, "vote with your feet" and I have never regretted it).

Highlights of Boxer’s speech are here. No mention of impeachment.

Another powerful woman, Cindy Sheehan is on her Summer of Love ’07: Journey for Humanity, marching from Crawford TX to New York City, by way of John Conyer’s office in the House of Representatives. She’s scheduled to reach Conyer’s office on July 23, to encourage him to take the lead on impeachment.

I have no idea whether Sheehan will be able to channel and focus the groundswell of anger in this country for impeachment, or whether this will be yet another ineffective replay of 1960s demonstration tactics. A majority of the public supports impeachment of Cheney (at least), and so the energy is there, it’s just a matter of whether Sheehan (and others) can acquire and demonstrate the skill to focus it. If you’ll forgive the very crude analogy, it’s a bit like watching neanderthals about to figure out how to use fire, for the first time, wondering if this will be the time that they get it, if they ever do.

As maha wrote in Protesting 102, the question is whether they’re "still caught up in the romance of being Outcasts and Rebels, and Speaking Truth to Power, and are not serious about taking and using power to effect change". A further question for Sheehan is whether she can move beyond her own personal loss, and identify more broadly with the international (and intentional) tragedy that is the Bush Administration.

I happened to catch Fox "News" report on Cindy Sheehan’s challenge to Nancy Pelosi, where Sheehan promised to run against Speaker Pelosi if Pelosi did not get behind impeachment, and pronto. Setting aside whether this is a good idea or not, what was striking about the report was how Fox portrayed the two women. They showed a still photo of Sheehan that looked as if she hadn’t slept in days – she looked terrible, every bit the fringe wacko strawman that the right relishes standing up and knocking down. By contrast, Pelosi looked radiant, while the "newscaster" helpfully explained that Pelosi enjoys 80 % approval in her district – well, she probably did before her refusal to consider impeachment.

This parallels the relentless focus by the conservative media on John Edwards’ hair earlier this summer. They spent weeks distracting us with this trivia instead of reporting on the substance of Edwards’ proposals. To my knowledge, no other Democratic candidate got this kind of treatment from the right. And let’s not forget the other sideshows of Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith. One gets the sense that they must actually hold auditions for these distractions, deliberately seeking them out.

The powers behind the right wing media know they’re likely to lose this time around, and so they are doing everything they can to deep-six anyone on the left who has the potential to rock the boat. Winnowing the field. Our field.

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Where Is Everyone?

Bush Administration, Iraq War

[Update: Macranger ought to have read my post all the way through before he linked to it. I don’t say what he seems to think I said.]

My impression is that yesterday’s antiwar protests got more news coverage than the big march around the White House in September 2005. And this is true in spite of the fact that the crowd showing up for the 2005 march was much bigger, estimated — conservatively — as between 100,000 and 200,000. From news stories (which, I realize, always lowball these things) it seems the turnout in Washington yesterday fell short of 100,000. Although nobody really knows.

More news coverage is not necessarily better news coverage. Take a look at the Washington Post story by Michael Ruane and Fredrick Kunkle:

A raucous and colorful multitude of protesters, led by some of the aging activists of the past, staged a series of rallies and a march on the Capitol yesterday to demand that the United States end its war in Iraq.

Under a blue sky with a pale midday moon, tens of thousands of people angry about the war and other policies of the Bush administration danced, sang, shouted and chanted their opposition.

They came from across the country and across the activist spectrum, with a wide array of grievances. Many seemed to be under 30, but there were others who said they had been at the famed war protests of the 1960s and ’70s.

Note especially —

Among the celebrities who appeared was Jane Fonda, the 69-year-old actress and activist who was criticized for sympathizing with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. She told the crowd that this was the first time she had spoken at an antiwar rally in 34 years.

“I’ve been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new antiwar movement,” she told the crowd. “But silence is no longer an option.”

Dear Jane: Get a blog.

I didn’t watch television yesterday but I take it the television news was All About Jane. I don’t know that this hurt the cause — people still enflamed about Jane are likely to be Bush supporters, anyway — but I can’t see that it helped, either.

At the Agonist, Sean-Paul Kelly criticized Jane’s attendance and got slammed for it in comments. But I’m with Sean-Paul here. Public protests are about action in service to a cause. Whether Jane Fonda has a right to protest — of course she does — it not the point. Jane Fonda has a right to smear herself with molasses and sit on an anthill, but just because one has a right to do something doesn’t make it smart.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — good public protests are good public relations. Protest movements of the past were effective when they called attention to an issue and gained public sympathy for it. And the secret to doing this is what I call the “bigger asshole” rule — protests work when they make the protestees look like bigger assholes than the protesters. Martin Luther King’s marches made white racists look like assholes. Gandhi made the whole bleeping British Empire look like assholes.

The Vietnam-era antiwar protesters, on the other hand, more often than not shot themselves in the foot by coming across as bigger assholes than Richard Nixon and other Powers That Were. Steve Gilliard has a good post up today reaffirming my opinion that the Vietnam antiwar movement did little or nothing to actually stop the war.

And, m’dears, the point is to stop the war. It is not about expressing yourself, feeling good about yourself, or even “speaking truth to power.” It is about stopping the war. Action that does not advance the cause of stopping the war is not worth doing.

In fact, I wonder if these “raucous and colorful” public displays might be trivializing a deadly serious issue.

I disagree with protest defenders that any street protest is better than no street protest. Believe me; no street protesting is preferable to stupid street protesting. I have seen this with my own eyes. And these days there are plenty of ways to speak out against the war than to carry oversized puppets down a street.

That said, based on this video, the protest in Washington yesterday seemed a perfectly respectable protest, although not notably different from other protests of recent years. Some politicians actually turned out for this one, which was not true in September 2005. This is progress.


John at AMERICAblog had mostly positive comments, also.

But will public protests like this change any minds that haven’t already been changed by events? I don’t see how.

That said, I want to respond to this post by Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House:

The May Day protest in Washington, D.C. sought to shut down the government. Some 50,000 hard core demonstrators would block the streets and intersections while putting up human barricades in front of federal offices. How exactly this would stop the war was kind of fuzzy. No matter. Nixon was ready with the army and National Guard and in the largest mass arrest in US history, clogged the jails of Washington with 10,000 kids.

Where are the clogged jails today? As I watch the demonstration on the mall today (much smaller than those in the past) I am thinking of the massive gulf between the self absorbed hodge podge of anti-globalist, pro-feminist, anti-capitalist, pro-abortion anti-war fruitcakes cheering on speakers lobbying for Palestinians, Katrina aid, and other causes not related to the war and the committed, determined bunch of kids who put their hides on the line, filling up the jails of dozens of cities, risking the billy clubs and tear gas of the police to stop what they saw as an unjust war.

The netnuts are fond of calling those of us who support the mission in Iraq chickenhawks. What do you call someone who sits on their ass in front of a keyboard, railing against the President, claiming that the United States is falling into a dictatorship, and writing about how awful this war is and yet refuses to practice the kinds of civil disobedience that their fathers and mothers used to actually bring the Viet Nam war to an end?

I call them what they are; rank cowards. There should be a million people on the mall today. Instead, there might be 50,000. Today’s antiwar left talks big but cowers in the corner. I have often written about how unserious the left is about what they believe. The reason is on the mall today. If they really thought that the United States was on the verge of becoming a dictatorship are you seriously trying to tell me that any patriotic American wouldn’t do everything in their power to prevent it rather than mouth idiotic platitudes and self serving bromides?

He as much as admits of the May Day (1971) protest, “How exactly this would stop the war was kind of fuzzy.” If I actually believed that getting myself arrested by blocking the door to the FBI building would help end the war, then I believe I would do it. But since I don’t see how such an arrest would make a damn bit of difference, except maybe get my glorious little self in the newspapers (and “no fly” lists), why would I do that? And why am I a “coward” for not doing it?

I haven’t yet smeared myself with molasses and sat on an anthill, either. Does that make me a coward? Or not crazy?

The other part of this post I want to respond to is his accusation that the antiwar left is “not serious.” He speaks of “the self absorbed hodge podge of anti-globalist, pro-feminist, anti-capitalist, pro-abortion anti-war fruitcakes cheering on speakers lobbying for Palestinians, Katrina aid, and other causes not related to the war,” and wonders why more of us don’t show up. Well, son, a lot of the reason more people don’t show up is in fact “the self absorbed hodge podge of anti-globalist, pro-feminist, anti-capitalist, pro-abortion anti-war fruitcakes cheering on speakers lobbying for Palestinians, Katrina aid, and other causes not related to the war.” It is damn frustrating for those of us serious about ending the war to spend the time and money to go somewhere for a protest and find our efforts diluted by the vocational protest crowd.

Moran is making the same error that Gary Kamiya made; he assumes that a “real” antiwar movement has to look and act just like the Vietnam-era antiwar movement. I say again, that movement failed. Why should we be emulating it today?

Moreover, claiming the left isn’t “serious” about ending the war because we’re not all engaging in pointless publicity stunts rather ignores what we are doing, and what we have accomplished. Remember the midterm elections?

Please, Rick Moran, get serious.

As for Mr. Moran’s question about people opposed to the war — “Where is everybody?” — I believe they’re here:

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Augment the Objections

Bush Administration

In Salon today, Gary Kamiya writes that

A real, broad-based antiwar movement would immediately put an end to the war — and put the Bush presidency out of its misery.

But there is no significant antiwar movement. And there isn’t going to be one unless Bush completely loses it and decides to attack Iran. (Insane as this idea is, Bush might see it as the only way to simultaneously destroy what he regards as a Nazi-like threat and save his shattered presidency.) This isn’t Vietnam, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest. This is the new, post-draft America, where a subclass of poorly paid professional warriors does the bidding of a power elite. With some notable exceptions, Cindy Sheehan being the most famous, the warriors and their families, those who pay the price, do not protest. And the rest of the country, not facing death or the death of immediate family members, doesn’t care enough to.

I agree with the first sentence in the quote, but Kamiya loses me when he declares he wants an antiwar movement just like the good ol’ days of Vietnam, when “hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest.”

The Vietnam era antiwar movement was wonderfully effective — at re-electing Richard Nixon in 1972. But at stopping the war, not so much.

Every time I write that I get slammed by people who say I’m wrong. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Eric Alterman

The first serious historical research I ever did was when I was researching my honors thesis as an undergraduate. I wanted to study the origins of neoconservatism, the Six Day War, and Vietnam—this was back in 1981—and my adviser, Walter LaFeber—insisted that I learn a little context first by examining the attitudes of the entire country to the war and the antiwar movement. I poured over the polling data and found to my surprise, that in many ways, the antiwar movement was counterproductive. Many Americans didn’t like the war but they really hated the counterculture. If supporting Nixon was a way to get back at the hippies and protesters and rioters, they were willing to do it, even if it meant extending a war they thought to be already lost.

I’m sure people who were completely immersed in the movement and had little substantive contact with outsiders saw things differently. But if, like me, you did spend time with people outside the movement, the impact of protests on public opinion was a painful thing to watch. To grab attention the protests became increasingly outrageous and flamboyant, and the more outrageous and flamboyant they became, the more the “straights” turned to Richard Nixon to protect them from the “dirty hippies.”

To a large extent, Nixon successfully made his ’72 campaign a referendum on the antiwar movement, not the war. As I saw it, the protesters handed Nixon a red herring issue that helped him avoid having to answer for bombing Cambodia.

Yes, Americans turned against the Vietnam war, and the war ended eventually. But who can say it was the antiwar protests that turned them? The bigger factor, I think, was watching the carnage and insanity on television every evening. There were real journalists in them days, children, and they told it like it was.

I’m wildly ambivalent about public protests. In the past four years I’ve participated in a few of the big protests and marches in New York and Washington. Some of these were positive and uplifting, and some made me cringe. None received the media coverage they deserved, and none had any measurable impact on Iraq War policy.

That said, I admit that if we could muster large numbers of Americans to march in the streets in an orderly manner this might have a real impact. Public protesting, done well, really does make a difference. Unfortunately, when it’s done badly it makes another kind of difference.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King day. Whenever I write these cautionary notes about public protests, someone brings up the big civil rights marches led by Martin Luther King in the 1960s. These protests had a spectacular effect on public opinion and helped bring about much positive change. But those marches were disciplined. As I wrote here, the marchers wore suits and dresses (I learned recently that MLK directed the marchers to dress this way; it didn’t just happen). They marched in a solemn and orderly manner. They waved many American flags. Their chants and signs didn’t contain language you couldn’t repeat to your grandmother.

The anti-Iraq War marches I’ve attended often were more like street carnivals than Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches. The glitter and goofiness are fun, but exactly why should marching against war be fun? Is war some kind of joke?

Some people think protesting is about “expressing themselves,” which seems to mean showing off and/or acting out whatever adolescent angst they haven’t yet resolved. But if you look at the really successful public protest movements — those led by Gandhi and MLK come to mind — you don’t see a collection of people “expressing themselves.” You see people complying with exacting discipline for the sake of a cause. You see people who understand that the cause is more important than their egos.

When a large number of people come together for a public demonstration, they do so to create one great big body that speaks with one great big voice. When a large number of people come together to engage in individual self-expression, however, the result can be one great big mess.

And may I add that goofy costumes and giant puppets are for circus parades, not for a solemn and serious cause. (OK, I’m an old grouch. I admit it.)

One of the more famous figures of the Vietnam era antiwar movement, Tom Hayden, had some interesting observations last November in the San Francisco Chronicle. I disagree with some of Hayden’s conclusions, but he’s worth quoting nonetheless.

…according to Gallup surveys, a majority of Americans came to view Iraq as a mistake more rapidly than they came to oppose the Vietnam War more than three decades ago. So how could there be a peace majority without a peace movement?

Foreign Affairs, the journal of the foreign policy establishment, wondered about this riddle in a 2005 essay by John Mueller reporting a precipitous decline in public support for the war even though “there has not been much” of a peace movement.

In January, when congressional opinion was shifting against the war, a Washington Post analysis made eight references to “public opinion,” as if it were a magical floating balloon, without any mention of organized lobbying, petitioning, protests or marches. That was consistent with a pattern beginning before the invasion, when both the New York Times and National Public Radio reported that few people attended an October 2002 rally in Washington, only to admit a week later that 100,000 had been in the streets.

Hayden thinks the marches and protests are having an impact after all. But then he says,

It is true there have been periodic lapses in street protests since 2003, but these can be explained by the surge of activists into anti-war presidential campaigns like that of Howard Dean. Not only were thousands involved, but’s voter fund raised $17 million in 2004, most of it from 160,000 contributors averaging $69 donations.

In this year’s election, MoveOn activists made 1 million calls to their elected officials, and poured thousands of dollars and volunteers into campaigns. New Hampshire elected to Congress Carol Shea-Porter, a woman previously known for pulling up her outer garment to display an anti-war slogan.

To disregard forces such as these in the definition of the anti-war movement is a sleight-of-hand, something like eliminating Eugene McCarthy’s New Hampshire campaign in March 1968 from the history of the anti-Vietnam movement.

Exactly. There is an antiwar movement. But today’s antiwar movement is a lot less reliant on public protests and street theater than the old one was. And that’s a good thing. Why would anyone think we should return to the tactics of 1971 if, as Hayden says, the current movement is more effective?

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