Saturday, April 15, 2006

What is takes for protests to really work....

Below is an article I took from Daily Kos. I agreee whole-heartedly: for a protest to work, it has to be serious, respectful, focused and large. I don’t see that happening with the anti-war movement, unfortunately. I have reprinted most of the article here.

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. I started thinking about it more after Coretta Scott King died.

Rule #1. Be serious.

Study the great civil rights marches of the 1950s and 1960s. People in those marches looked as if they were assembled for a serious purpose. They wore serious clothes. They marched both joyously and solemnly. Most of all, they carried themselves with the dignity befitting a great and noble cause. And 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. And, please, nix the street theater. It isn't that I don't enjoy some of it -- I am fond of Billionaires for Bush -- and a display of flag-draped coffins moving down the street has real impact. 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. ANSWER is a repeat offender. 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. 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. 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 agreeing with 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. The number of people who marched for immigration reform over the past few days was stunning. It's the biggest reason the marches got news coverage. 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 successful 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. At the same time, if Sheehan's crew had yelled obscenities or thrown rocks at Bush's motorcade, it would have helped Bush's approval ratings considerably. But they 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.

Rules #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. Fortunately, the netroots revolution is showing us the way to do just that.

Other observations:
I don't know how to persuade people who march against the war to let go of self-indulgence and exhibitionism and get serious. I once posted the opinion that I am weary of the "old fringe that's stuck in a 1970s time warp of identity politics and street theater projects and handing out fliers for the next cause du jour rally," and boy, did I get slammed for that. Clearly, I had just slaughtered a whole herd of sacred cows. Imagine whistling "We Shall Overcome" at a Klan meeting.

This blog post ended with:
I also believe the antiwar movement today is floundering because of lack of cohesive leadership. The dignified presence of Martin Luther King guided the great civil rights protests and made them exemplary. Judging by some demonstrations I've seen, the antiwar movement is being guided by Sideshow Bob.


Human said...

As one who has been to 5 anti war demonstrations since the American-Iraq War started, including last September's, I can assure you that all of the above criterea was met.

KOS has some good things about the site. But overall they are a Dem Leadership tool. Since KOS is such a popular blog I would like to see them put up such a demo. It's easy to talk and harder to do.

The movement has been effective. It is not all about one demo or two. On the way to and fro the demos I engaged many people on the metro, as did others, and like others my van was decorated with signs. How many people saw all those Buses on their way to the demo? How many people engaged others along the way and back? It over time has numbered in the 10s of thousands.

I know we have made a differance.

When over 200,000(thats a conservative est.of last September) people get together there will always be the anarchists and street theatrics. That is what the MSM always shows. They never show the legions of mature and calm. THey openly lie also.

After very first one I went to, the local news said the demonstrators were yelling at the Police. That was an outright lie. We numbered about a thousand that day and we chanted and sang "in front"(we were not allowed Laffeyette Park) of the White House.
We were tight and focused.We did not put the Cops between us and Bush.Not one "Pig" or other stuff was yelled at the cops.

Last Sept. Many people engaged the Police in conversation. Many including me thanked them for keeping everybody safe that day. In many ways big and little the demonstrations make a positive difference.

On April 30th there will be a demonstration. Maybe I'll see you there.


dancewater said...

human, thanks for stopping in and commenting.

I was at the anti-war march in September, and I went over to where ANSWER had their booths and such. They were covering (almost) every human rights issue under the sun, including South America.

I organize rallies here in my hometown, and it is a lot of work. And really, the organizers cannot control who shows up or how they dress, but our local press has been consistent in presenting the "fringe" cases of dress and behavior. The immigration marches everyone dressed normal, no "casualties of war" costumes, no "statues of liberty" costumes, no costumes period.

I just think we would get more respect if we looked and acted like regular people, and NOT engage in street theatrics.

I will not be going to NYC for the April 29th event (don't know of any on the 30th) because we are having EYES WIDE OPEN in my town that weekend, and I am one of the organizers (again!).

I hope to get to DC next month, but it is not looking good right now.

Human said...

I hear ya. I agree the theatrics go over the top. Though it is enjoyable sometimes. My fav is raging grannies.

I was not calling you out on it. Just KOS. Most of us ignored ANSWER. I like their youth and vigor, but it can be better directed.

The pics and report that I posted on my blog on OCt. 6th about the Sept demo Iare more indictative of the people. I like to take pics of the old people and such.

There is a demo planned for DC this 30th. It is being organized by
THey(and I) are a part of a network of spiritual progressives.

It is obvious you work hard to put the truth out there and even more important do something about it.

In referance to the trouble at my blog you may get a visit from "Hellpig" or others. Garbage has been posted(and deleted) at some of my friendlies.

Now I gotta petition to sign.
Thanks for everything.