As the title suggest I will be addressing the issue of protesting. I hope here to point out the flaws and boundaries that protesting has as well as the good effect it can have and why/how some protest are more effective than others. I doubt this post will have any major break throughs as most of what can be said about protesting has already been said, but I think it is important to bring this issue to light because the US masses seem to be split on rather protesting matters or is generally helpful in any way.
Regular readers of this blog know that I subjectively do not see protesting as a legit form of struggle. I will try to point out objective reasons for why most protest are a waste of time and why some are successful.
I would like to start with why some protest are successful. Hopefully I can point out at the same time why most protest are not successful. If we look back to the 2006 pro-immigrant rights protest we can see easily why they were a huge success.
- they were on point
- they were organized by the groups who's interest was being represented
- they had national media coverage
- they knew how to use the images that the media were showing to their advantage
1) They were on point: The reason for having these protest were two fold, one was to raise awareness to the issue. Second reason was to show that these immigrants wanted to be apart of the US not tear it apart like some conservative pundits had suggested. As anyone who paid attention would know, these protest were huge, getting half a million protesters in LA (1) and other cites getting large numbers as well (2) (look for protest numbers under the timeline in the article) These protest were not your average 30 issue protest that are thrown in LA and DC every year attracting 50,000 people. These protest were organized around one issue; immigration reform! One short, sweet message.About the annual anti-war, pro-jobs, pro-education, pro-immigration, pro-Palestine, anti-imperialist, pro-universal healthcare etc etc etc march that attracts about 50,000 protesters and gets no coverage from the media? Lets be clear here, if you have 50,000 reasons and slogans for your protest it is not an accomplishment to get one person to show up for each cause. Let alone the fact that having "large" protest in one or two cities isn't going to get you media coverage. It isn't media censorship and it isn't that the media is ignoring you. The media wants new news, these protest have happened so many times, over and over and over again that the media has no reason to covers these annual played out protest. There is nothing new or exciting about them. But these immigration reform protest were different, they were nation wide and had one united cause. And another reason they were successful leads right into my next point.
2) They were organized by the groups who's interest was being represented: It is no secret to people who have been inside of the protesting organizing circles that only about 2-3 groups organize the average DC protest. What these groups tend to do (even if it is unintentional) is highjack the cause from the people who are actually in the struggle and try to 'lead the struggle'. But these protest were organized by the immigrant population for the immigrant community. The Spanish speaking radio stations took up the cause calling people into the streets. They were organic they were spontaneous they were exciting and they were not full of side-pet issues.
3) They had national media coverage: In order for a protest to be successful is for it to achieve something. Sure they are fun and it is cool to yell things but at the end of the day they need to accomplish something or else it was a waste of time and effort. These 2006 protest got the whole nation talking about immigration reform and they helped sway public opinion. How did they do this? They got coverage on the national news channels. The uniqueness of the protest happening during the heated debates that were taking place in DC over immigration reform created an event and atmosphere that the news stations couldn't stay away from. Thus the protesters were given a voice in the national debate as millions and millions of people watched millions of people marching all across the country.
4) They knew how to use the images that the media were showing to their advantage: Another reason why these protest were successful was because they paid attention to their image that was being shown to the nation. Spanish radio stations called for the protesters to leave their Mexican flags at home so as to not fuel xenophobic fear. It was a success! What the whole country saw wasn't a large number of immigrants carrying their respective nations flags, but instead they saw immigrants carrying American flags which spoke 'we are Americans to and we are proud to be in America'. No matter how the right wanted to screw these protest they couldn't use their covenanted "un-American" attack thus killing their voice and striking a winning blow for the protesters.
Now that we have discussed why some protest are successful and a little bit about why some are not I'd like to move on to why most protest are unsuccessful.
Most smaller protesting groups tend to have one pet issue (free mumia, police brutality, anti-imperialist etc). While the nation wide protesting organizations tend to try to take on all issues and have a tendency to take over peoples struggles. Sometimes a smaller group will set up a protest and ask a larger group to co-coordinate a protest with them and what will happen is that the original reason for the protest will be hijacked by everyone try to push their own pet issue. The news won't cover a story about an anti-war protest that has ten to twenty other side issues, it isn't news anymore it has been happening for over 30 years and it is boring.
There is always that group that discredits the integrity of the protest because instead of participating in it they are running around selling news papers or asking for donations or trying to recruit new people to their groups (so that they can donate regularly). Sometimes by the end of a protest you feel like you had been used, or that many small groups were using the protest to further their cause.
Another reason why a lot of protest fail is that they are not organized by the people who are suppose to be represented. I was even upset when I went to a pro-immigration rights march/protest and I saw maybe 5 immigrants. There was apparently about 10-15,000 people at this protest according to local news sources and it wasn't taken seriously because there were no immigrants at the protest. Not to mention it became awkward when the marchers started singing Christian songs (it was organized by a huge church who was having their international convention in our city)
I'm sick of people who say 'what else can we do' when I raise my critique of the chances of success in protesting something. What else can you do? Well you could organize along non-sectarian (I mean that you organize for revolution and not just for money and members, not that trots and stalinoids should unite necessarily) lines to grow revolutionary consciousness is one thing I can think of. You could stop wasting time and money on proven old and tried and failed tactics.
We should be weary of any socialist who is a pacifist and who thinks that protesting is going to somehow take down the system. These fakes are the ones who point to Egypt and claim that these protest took down the government and they claim that there was no violence, no looting, no riots, no destruction of police offices. Peaceful protest rarely accomplish anything, only in very rare instances does it have any effect at all. Even when they do accomplish anything they are usually accompanied with strikes, national actions etc.
The left really needs to reconsider their tactics and evaluate the effectiveness of their tactics. Useless, old, failure proven tactics are still being used and tried and true tactics are being cast aside. We all need to become theoretical contributes and come up with new tactics to help advance the slogan of communism.