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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Utility of Mass Protest

Posted by on April 11 at 12:30 PM

Remember back in the fall of last year, when that big (and somewhat ignored) anti-war protest in D.C. led to a discussion in the forums about the utility of protest?

The forum thread got going because some people, including myself, were wondering whether mass protest is even relevant anymore in the age of the Internet. Since then, I’ve heard a lot of people suggesting that protesting in the streets is an anachronism that will eventually be replaced by more powerful forms of online organizing. But it seems to me that the immigrant protests of this week (nevermind recent events in France) have put a bit of a dent in that theory.

What say you, tech utopians?

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Quantity does not equal quality.

I commuted home from downtown yesterday, and since I expected the protest to clog up streets, I wasn't bothered so much by it.

What I noticed was the massive anger from non-protesters. The Latinos flooding the sidewalks along 3rd Avenue sure seemed happy, but the other people trying to catch a bus that wasn't jam packed with commuters (that had to wait 30-45 minutes for an available bus) were all very angry. I heard lots of "Fucking protesters!" and "You assholes!"

I don't think, outside of a 30 second soundbyte on newscasts and a link to an AP story, that this protest generated much goodwill towards the immigration cause. It was deliberately held during rush hour to clog up traffic, an attention whorish act.

As for any effect... let's see how lawmakers in DC react, because honestly, that's the only reaction that matters when all is said and done.

I'm guessing anti-war protest organizers will find a lot to learn from the protests today... such as not letting kooky fringe groups dominate your message.

I'll say it again: 20,000 is not a mass protest, even in Seattle. Your message can't be dominated by fringe groups when it IS a fringe group.

Gomez is right: the only people who care about demonstrations like this are the tiny majority participating and the vast majority who are pissed off by it. When y'all come down off your groupthink high, you'll realize that it's not working.

Re: Kooky Fringe Groups...

The photo on the cover of the Seattle Times shows a Freedom Socialist Party banner quite clearly. They're the kookiest and fringiest.

I hear that whole "marches don't work" thing and it does make a smidgeon of sense. But as to whether online "actions" are a suitable replacement, I must say when people make the case that the best way for them to effectively bring about change is to keep sitting on their asses and doing what they're doing, I'm deeply suspicious. If blocking up traffic and waving signs ain't gonna change the world (and tell that to the Ukrainians), how in the hell is posting your opinions on the internet gonna acoomplish anything? Seems like a lazy out to me. On the plus side, probably less chance of getting sprayed with pepper spray or beaten with sticks.

So the time honored american tradition of clogging the streets with peaceful assembly should be rethought because..
- the possibility that the dominate conservative media may catch sight of some kooky fringe folks and use that image to distract from and tarnish the legitimate message of the protesters ?
-because organizers can't always draw up any more than 20'000 folks ( even though the morning news reports only expected 'hundreds to show ' which turned into 'maybe 10,000' )out on a lovely spring day to clog traffic and piss people
off ?
- because we shouldn't clog traffic and piss people off when they really need to get home after a hard day's work ?
- because people shouldn't take the chance ever of pissing people off particularly when they're a minority.
... i'd never thought i'd miss the good old days of dogs and hoses and brickbats and tear gas until now..
but i hear there's another protest scheduled for may 1st. maybe the media and the majority will get some cajones and and silence this thing once and for all...
geez !

But, Riz, aren't you confusing cause and effect? The purpose of life isn't good protests; heck, even the purpose of protests isn't good protests. It's to effect change. How does yesterday's protest effect change? Probably by making Seattleites a little bit more anti-immigrant than they were before.

The question isn't about who's the most pissed off or who has the most right to be or who's the most victimized or whatever you want it to be; it's about what your aims are and how best to achieve them.

Yesterday ain't it. Yesterday CAN'T be it.

And all comparisons between modern protests and the civil rights movement in the South in the 50s and 60s are null.

Anachronistic? I tell you what anachronistic is: laborers working the land to feed their community and their landlord's demesne, while letting his influence and money dictate their rights and welfare.

This protest is what democracy looks and sounds like. Those represented at the march care more and know more about their political surroundings than the average US citizen, yet their voices are silenced at the voting polls and even by their representatives. What we saw and heard yesterday were proud Americans speaking for themselves in one of the best ways democracy permits. They were not sitting in an office shooting off emails and petitions, a largely effortless task. They stopped working for the day, traveled from far and wide, made the efforts to walk through downtown Seattle, and filled blocks and blocks of streets with their often unheard voices.

Is this ineffective? If so, then those that think so are more apathetic than the protesters and/or they just aren't listening. If 25,000 proves insubstantial, then those people saying that are too busy counting.

What this online democracy suggestion is is FUTURISTIC. Once a verifiable system is used for these online petitions, their relevance and effectiveness compared to a street protest can be measured by how lazy it is to fill them out. Based on this country's laziness, they'll sadly prove very effective and relevant.

Yesterday was unlike any other day in the history of Seattle's streets. It was a coming-out day for Latinos in Seattle. Ever seen 15,000-25,000 Latinos in Seattle in broad daylight?

The reactions I saw on the faces of spectators--be they white, black, or asian--was pretty much the same: who knew there were so many Latinos here?

Anyone who can count votes knows what that means. In other words, yesterday was it. Ask Karl Rove. He knows who elects presidents in this country.

And no, staying at home in South Park and Yakima would not have been a better strategy. And not one word suggesting that farmworkers send e-mails instead, and hope that maybe someone is kind enough to listen to them. Talk about null and void.

Protesting like this is not as effective as it used to be. The whole point is to get news coverage, but most protests are just the same people complaining about the cause of the moment, and the media doesn't generally consider it news. This one was unusual because most of the people are not habitual protesters.

It's also worth noting that a lot of them are not able to vote and not very good at speaking English, so more effective methods of influencing public policy are not available to them. The 1950s-1960s civil rights protests were more effective, I think, because most of them couldn't vote. When people have no other avenue for change, they are more motivated.

Plus people can't just respond by saying it's sour grapes because you lost at the ballot box. The antiwar protests could be easily dismissed because even though an astounding number of people participated, there were really few electoral consequences for either the president or members of Congress that supported the war.

What i'll suggest is that the effect of one march cannot really be gaged in the reactions of the media or the throngs of pissed off people who can't get home from a hard day's work..any protest or, more acurately, movement has to be gaged over time by a variety of factors that must include a variety of actions.
the immigrant marches have been staedily building steam nationally over a few weeks, if not months . it is ineveitable that the local and national press will seek to negate and vilify yeaterdays marches. and many many right thinking people can be expected to react in ignorance and self interest. the protests of those past eras took decades to build momentem. yesterday's marches shouldn't be the lone action taken and i'm sure there is more action planned. but on both sides of that fence it was an impressive begining by a segment of the populace that has bee taken for granted for a long time. and as for the effect in congress, i don't think that they're entirely ignoring yesterdays marches.
if seattleites become more anti immigrant in part due to yesterday's marches than it falls on a great many more of us to address that issue. but i would hate to think that peaceful assembly should be abadoned because change takes so very very long to effect.
amd you surely don't mean that ALL comparisons between modern protess and the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's are null and void.

It was a great day for the future voters of Seattle. 30 thou plus, at the very least.

Anti immigrant folks will remain anti immigrant folks. Hillary Clinton and Kennedy spoke at the DC rally and the numbers near the millions in Arizona and Texas.

A peaceful march, which included families, young people, professionals, activists, clergy, and politicians, including Gossett, Dow, Sims, and Nickles.

Yes there were the kooky freedom socialist handing out their materials, gee its a democracy they can show up, but they werent sponsors. If I recall correctly they showed up at the rally in support of gay rights in Safeco field and I didnt hear anybody at the Stranger calling that rally kooky because they showed up. It was their right to show up and oppose the homophobes just as it was their right to show up and support the march. They always show up, thats their right, and yes they are irelevant but its funny how u can pick such a small group out of the thousands.

Get used to it. Some of us are permanent residents or citizens now and remember the US came to south of the border and not the other way around. Millions who were born here are never going to turn their back on their families.

If a few rerouted buses is your biggest beef, than join Dave Reichert he has room for your support and will be leading the anti immigrant charge since he is going to need an issue. and he is going to need it.


And props to the Blue Scholars who put on a hell of a show at the rally!!

I'm with Seme on this. The sight of hundreds of thousands of people marching in cities across America was truly inspiring. If only the anti-war people were so strongly motivated! But seriously, the protesters were extremely well organized. Within a week of being criticized for waving non-American flags they were out in full-force, waving as many US flags as I've seen in any rally post-9/11. The left could learn a lot from these people.

HAHA to the 'if the traffic jam annoyed you then you're clearly a fascist Republican' line, Seme.

I'm pro-immigration and, though I didn't have many problems personally with the traffic, even I didn't approve of the timing of the protest. It was clearly timed for rush hour to blatantly irritate people. That rarely gets people on your side.

FNARF - you are stuck in self adulation and mistaken perceptions.

We have been witnessing a new movement for social change build before our eyes.

This is just the first of steps of a very serious movement. A giant movement.

Your age is showing, Sir, and a limited political viewpoint.

Utterly amazing, millions march in unity to say no the Republican agenda on Immigration.

And you think this holds no imort because there was some traffic snafu --- open your eyes and turn on the brain.

Fuck the blogs, fuck the emails, fuck the letter --- to the street by the millions, led by Catholic Bishops, Mormon Elders and the maids, and dishwashers, and yard grunts, and the most basic workers in America.

Exciting, hell folks, it is a new history being written in America.

A million of these folks camped in DC for week would bring down the govenment.

Think Marcos, and Latvia and the rest of Eastern Europe.

The fate of the Republican party in America was sealed the the past two week.

Dead dog, and out of power in Nov....

History before you eyes and you think it is about an irritated commuter who is an idiot to start with.


Will there be a single immigrant sensitve citizen, voter, who will not carry this to political action in Nov?

I think mucho money, millions, and hundreds of thousands of votes will flow to Democrats in Nov.

These folks are serious, committed and this is just phase one of a long summer.

Locally, Riechert is on his way out......his vote for the punitve R proposal sealed his fate.

I read Jake, more.... in Salt Lake City 35,000 marched, the biggest political event in that city ever. The Mormon mayor spoke on the side of immigrants, calling the current propoals anti- family.....and in interviews with media cited specifics how even curent laws keeps families apart.

Look for other immigrant populations join in the next wave, Asians, Euros and Canadians.

And the folks just one generation removed......a natural affinity group.

Settle down Gomez, I never said fascist republican. A couple of light jabs thats all man. I hear what youre saying, but I disagree with you, and I think the timing was good.

Hey, I meant HAHA funny.

I just think that protests can have positive effects and negative effects, and worry, given what I saw firsthand, that the negative effects of a 5 pm protest in Downtown may have been too heavy to get more (undecided) people of the city on their side.

I can agree to disagree. Hopefully, Congress gets a little hot under the collar about their constituencies protesting, and they vote down the restrictive immigration legislation on the table.

Gomez --- the right wingers in Congress are already baking away from the House bill that proposed that illegals all be felons.

Mas protest works, and this is just the beginning. Oh, we could do the same for healthcare.

With a name like Gomez, I would think you are in the photos with the Che flag.

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