Protest: Why Bother?

( – 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.

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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….

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Some good signs…

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Walking down the street…

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Reading the names of fallen soldiers and honoring their memory….

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Walking back…

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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.

70 comments

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    • Alma on March 28, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Looks like a good sized group.  

    I always figure that even if politicians aren’t listening or seeing the protests, that the protests encourage others to find their voices, and do something.  One thing I would like to see more of at protests, are things like signs, flyers, or booths with info of what else people can do, like getting ahold of their Reps.  And petitions that everyone at the event could sign to be mailed into congress.

    • brobin on March 28, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    people in those pictures!

    Thanks for your insight on the event, UCC.  

    I have noticed that here in Greensboro, NC, that the Iraq war / BushCo protesters downtown really get far more positive thumbs up than anything from passers by.

  1. which asserts that protesting is ineffective vs. the netroots.

    There is no doubt that netroots is hugely powerful, and I’m sure Martin Luther King would have found it to be a great tool. But you know what? I love the sound of his voice, and when I see his eyes and his conviction while delivering an address, and I see the crowds who bother to travel from far away to gather, the sense of unity and urgency is so much more powerful.

    The netroots is premised on the open availability of the Internet. We are already seeing efforts begin to shape access to information. I saw a segment on CNN where someone was touting his company’s plan to offer free high-speed Internet to customers. It sounded great. All you had to do was use their portal which paid for your connection by showing ads. I could live with that. Oh, and parents will love it because the portal will only let you browse to sites they approve. They approve. Fucking They, again.

  2. I’ve been known to blog and protest all on the same day.

    If I thought either were a waste of time, I’d do something else.

    Love your insight:

    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.

  3. If there’s all that energy there, how about someone organizing an Iraq Moratorium event for April?  The Third Friday is the 18th, and there are lots of ideas, tools and inspiration here.

    • OPOL on March 29, 2008 at 3:11 am

    thanks for the effort and the spirit.  Protesting is only one part of what is necessary but it’s an important one.  To not protest injustice and tyranny is unforgivable in light of our history.

    We have all seen enough to know how important it is to oppose evil in this world.

    “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

    Elie Wiesel

    Thank you for protesting ucc, and a heartfelt thank you to everyone who protests.  You represent what’s worth saving about humanity.

  4. is something I ask myself daily. Fear holds us all hostage, ironic that were afraid to admit that our government, the one we support, is the most fearful thing the world is facing now. FDR and the Buddhists are right.  

    • Bikemom on March 30, 2008 at 6:08 am

  5. Photobucket

    1. the shareholders were very unhappy, and because the price of Bear Stearns stock shot up to $11 and change as soon as word of the sale got out.  It was an embarrassingly low offer.  I can dig up some links, I think, if you want to follow them.

      • OPOL on March 29, 2008 at 2:58 am
      • kj on March 29, 2008 at 2:15 pm

      is a meme i’d like to see spread…

      What we don’t hear from the press is that if New Orleans were an investment bank, then that city would be doing just great.

      thanks, Mouse.

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