( – promoted by buhdydharma )
I have always been “out of touch” with popular culture, even though I look distressingly ordinary in person. One of the popular axions these days is that “protest” doesn’t matter, it is ineffective, and a yawning legacy of the 1960’s which if one is particularly young is seen as quaint and if one is middle aged or older, the 1960’s were a time when the trusted order of society fractured a bit. I don’t think it fractured enough.
I would argue that protest has at least symbolic meaning for a few reasons. It is a basic exercise in democracy, peaceful protest is a healthy alternative to unfocused violence, and there is in the United States today a silent majority who don’t agree with the direction this country is going in but feel either paralyzed or reluctant to join in any activity. If your expectation of protest is that there will be a rapid response, an indication from authorities that the action has even been noticed, disappointment is sure to follow. Typically even when large numbers gather, the media under reports numbers and it is framed as being an unusual “event” rather than a fairly benign one.
People who protest aren’t radicals, they are simply exercising their right to free speech and assembly but America is increasing reflecting other states in which capitalism flourishes in absence of civic action. Indeed, the new emerging democratic model seems to be one in which people have theoretical rights but aren’t actually supposed to invoke them. People protest for a variety of personal/political/ and moral/spiritual reasons and telling them that voicing these ideals “don’t matter” and that they aren’t “effective” is arrogant. I would apply that critique even to peaceful protests on subjects I stringently disagree with. I might disagree, but I won’t ever claim they are a waste of time. Watching reality TV is a waste of time, having enough conviction to stand alone on a street corner holding up a sign is not. Using your voice is never a waste of time and anybody who tells you it is, is either struggling to find their own voice and envious or fearful of your message.
I attended a small protest last week and I actually do have a few criticisms. The fact that it was small was of no consequence to me. I was intrigued by the one obvious paradox, while the group of people were cheery and amiable, very few people struck up a conversation with me. Most came with friends or other groups and clearly all knew one another. My take on the Memphis activist scene at least with regards to the anti-war effort, is that it might suffer from a bit of clique behavior. My advice to wanna be community activists is that if you see a stranger at one of your events, go introduce yourself or designate somebody in your group to look for and cultivate newbies. A few people saw my camera and asked if I was from the media and when I explained it was a hobby, they lost interest. That certainly won’t discourage me from attending future events but at a time when community activists are interested in engaging “ordinary” Americans on the big issues like the war, somebody with thinner skin than I might have concluded they weren’t necessary or welcome.
We walked a loop of about two miles and at the half way point we pinned the names of those who had fallen on the fence of one of the recruiting stations in Memphis in remembrance. People in cars passed and honked in affirmation and people on the street either smiled or made commentary that was supportive. There was very little negative commentary from non-participants.
The procession was across from the National Civil Rights museum and the crowd gathered to hear a few speakers. Their words were short but positive.
Not many public activities happen in the south without a preacher, this gentleman was an accomplished speaker, I might even go to hear a sermon at his church one day….
Some good signs…
Walking down the street…
Reading the names of fallen soldiers and honoring their memory….
This protest didn’t stop the world but it might have opened a few hearts, from where I am standing that is reason enough to add my small voice.