Thursday, March 31, 2005

"... the coffins were all in order...."

A few days ago, a lefty friend of mine contended that the reason the recent anti-war protests commemorating the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq received very little coverage on the news was that the Bushies have the broadcast news in their pocket. (This was right after I read yet another conservative bloviator who insisted the network news was liberal, except for Fox, which was "fair and balanced." Ho-hum.)

I suggested that maybe there was another reason for the paucity of coverage: People, even people sympathetic to one or more of the causes, tended to view protest marches as anachronistic.

The Washington Monthly's Christina Larson has expanded and expounded on this view in "Postmodern Protests -- Why modern marches matter only to those who march."

Regarding one of the counter-inaugural protests, the “Women's March and Funeral Procession,” Larson reports:
As with most demonstrations today, the march wasn't planned to accomplish a concrete result by demanding the passage of a particular piece of legislation. Instead, its organizers had focused largely on two things: affirming the protesters' right to protest, and enriching their experience of the protest. While in the past a march was judged successful if it affected a political outcome, today's protests are judged on how they affect a protester's sense of self.

This "Free To Be, You And Me" school of protest is enough to set my socialist ancestors spinning in their graves like tops. Amending labor laws so that they and hundreds of their countrywomen wouldn't have to jump out factory windows in flames was enough enrichment of their experience. But as Larson illustrates, as various movements became more established, with offices and staffs, marches became more about getting together for some kind of activist trade show.

This is great on a social basis. It's lonely sitting behind a computer all the time. But for those of you who are amazed that United For Peace and Justice got such a big turnout in New York the day before the Republican Convention and yet Bush is still president and there's still a war going on, Larson would like to remind you:

Protesting for protesting's sake serves a market. But so do rock concerts and tractor pulls. If today's marchers want their efforts to mean a great deal more than that, they would do well to recognize the real reason why the marches of yesteryear are remembered. It wasn't just about the messengers. It was about the message.


The week before the Inauguration, I received e-mails about several scheduled protests for that day. One was "Turn Your Back On Bush," where you were supposed to, you guessed it, turn your back on Bush when the presidential motorcade passed you. This prompted more than one comedian to say, "You know he's going to get out of the car and say, 'What y'all lookin' at?'" The jokes about the protest had more of a rebellious feeling than the protest itself.

Which leads me to believe that the best way to protest on that day would have been to work on your act. Or in this case, your message. And it can't just be "throw the bums out." It's gotta be about what you would like to see happen when "our" bums get in.

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