Decline of the American Protest


Bloody_Sunday-officers_await_demonstrators Reason reports on a “peaceful” protest against police abuse in Washington DC, telling us that “No fires were set or property damaged as far as I could tell. They succeeded in shutting down intersections as they went along, tailed by a cavalcade of police cars, lights flashing, there to keep the traffic in check.”

Color me deeply unimpressed.

Fifty years ago, the headline-grabbers called attention to themselves by dressing to the nines in order to get the snot beat out of them by racist cops who would not allow them to cross a bridge (over its pedestrian lane no less!). They did so in order to call attention to their dignity as citizens and the moral decrepitude of the officials, police officers, and posse members who assaulted and beat them.

Today, it’s noteworthy when their slovenly-dressed heirs merely limit their activities to intentionally shutting down traffic, and inconveniencing hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have committed no injustice. I saw this personally in Boston last December, shortly after the Eric Garner story went big, when a couple of hundred protestors shut down one of the city’s busiest (and worst) intersections, snarling traffic in a half-dozen directions.

I wish I had taken some photographs of the late-night commuters, whose faces betrayed that they realized it would take them hours to get home. The most depressing aspect of the whole thing was the line of officers guarding the freeway entrance to ensure that none of the protestors marched onto I-93.

A few weeks later, a group of protestors did exactly that a few blocks away, subsequently chaining themselves to concrete barrels they’d dragged down for precisely the purpose of shutting down traffic during morning rush hour.

There’s no point in holding a protest that nobody notices — and shutting down traffic is a guaranteed way to call attention to yourself. Under some extreme circumstances, I can imagine how that might be justified. But absent those circumstances, it’s the easy, sloppy, cowardly way of doing things. Parks such as the Boston Common — conveniently located in front of the State House, I should add — provide an excellent venue with great optics, though you have to earn listeners’ attention rather than demand it by preventing them from getting home to their families, or forcing ambulances to re-route.

If you want to influence politics, act like a damn citizen.

Published in Culture, General
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There are 8 comments.

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  1. TG Thatcher

    You’re talking to the wrong crowd, here, Tom.  :/

    • #1
  2. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Completely agreed, Tom. They are effectively vandals, wrecking work schedules and blocking storefronts.

    • #2
  3. Tuck Inactive

    “If you want to influence politics, act like a damn citizen.”

    They are effectively vandals, yet they, not the citizens, are the ones who have the most impact.

    Look at the impact of the 1960s protests, especially on how the Universities conduct themselves.

    These folks are, in many cases, the same people.  They know it worked before.

    • #3
  4. user_86050 Inactive

    In the immediate aftermath of the murders in El Salvador of a Jesuit residence, and finding out that the military unit that carried out the murders was trained and supported by the US, I was enraged. I actually knew those Jesuits, and I was determined to stop support for their murderers.

    But how? How does an ordinary citizen get involved?

    • I wrote an op-ed that was picked up by The Baltimore Sun.
    • I went on a local radio show.

    Not nearly enough.

    • I joined a couple of protest marches.
    • I was arrested in front of the White House, along with 550 other demonstrators.

    Never again.

    The “protest experience” was juvenile. Adolescent. It was a hodgepodge of pointless rituals that accomplished absolutely nothing. Someday I’m going to write a journal of that day, but it’ll only work as a dark comedy. The whole affair has completely shut me off from taking protesters seriously. I have no doubt that political protest is a civil right. It is also, in this day and age, about the stupidest waste of time a citizen can engage in.

    • #4
  5. user_88846 Member

    The trouble with most protestors is that they aren’t demonstrating to change minds but to make themselves feel better.  They seem to believe that even doing something counterproductive was better than doing nothing.

    The sad thing is that protestors have made doing nothing a better option than much of what they actually do.

    • #5
  6. user_86050 Inactive

    To give you a flavor of why I was so disappointed and disgusted by the whole thing, let me tell a quick story.

    A march is supposed to command attention. It was late November of 1989, and we had a huge crowd marching in front of the White House.

    There were a couple flakes of snow.

    On that day, 550 people were arrested. Ed Asner was arrested right in front of me; Martin Sheen was also arrested. We non-celebrities were arrested and taken in vans and buses to the DC police station, where it took hours and hours of standing in line, while our hands were bound behind our backs with plastic twist-ties, while the cops took their time to process us. The march had started at 10 in the morning. We were standing room only in the DC jail at 11pm.

    Then, the local news came on. Each holding pen had a TV hanging from the ceiling. All of the protesters hushed to watch; surely our “Political Statement!” was going to be big news.

    We weren’t the lead story. We weren’t second. Or third.

    After the commercial break, the anchor said, “Over 500 people were arrested today protesting in front of the White House.” Then they showed a couple quick clips.

    “Looks like they had a little snow, eh Bob?” Then he threw it over to the weatherman.

    We were a stinking segue to the weather segment. I got arrested for a segue.

    Never again.

    • #6
  7. user_519396 Member

    “Act like a damn citizen.” Hear, hear. One way is they might get engaged in local city governance. Some of these incidents occur in some of the most liberal-voting jurisdictions in the country. If you are exercised about alleged police brutality, how about taking on the police unions that thwart civilian oversight and harbor rogue cops. Or the teacher unions that protect crummy teachers and trap kids in failing schools. Or bureaucratic tangles that make big cities hostile to small business owners. Or the city council that never met a tax they couldn’t hike in order to reward their friends. Question why your local and state pols are in bed with public employee unions. (Blue State Democrats desperately need a “Nixon goes to China” moment vis-a-vis public employee unions.) Puerile rage is easy to sustain for an hour or two. Try something harder, like testifying at a city council budget or oversight hearing, or asking an intelligent question at a candidate forum. Learn to speak civilly, and come armed with facts.

    • #7
  8. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller

    Normalcy is also a factor. Marches and gatherings are so common these days that they are shrugged off by all except people who already knew and supported the particular cause. Same for ribbons, memes, amd whatnot.

    • #8
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