Oy vey. Drudge and other media sources are starting to profile some of the groups planning on turning the upcoming party conventions into three-ring freak circuses, and I’m already sick of these people. Here’s a sampling of the bounty of bombastic banner-waving boneheads who think that strutting around in the street with posters is an effective way to accomplish anything but some decent exercise:
“We are completely peaceful,” said Rob Weiland, a 37-year-old courier from Denver and member of the group We Are Change Colorado. “We follow the ideals of Ghandi.”
Spectacular. Except that Gandhi was opposing the sometimes brutal colonialist exploitation of an entire country. “We Are Change,” on the other hand, are a bunch of 9/11 conspiracy nuts with a website so full of rambling YouTube nonsense that it crashes my browser (warning: website may crash browser).
What made mass protests “work” in the era of Gandhi, Walesa, the Civil Rights Movement and so forth was not the mere fact of people marching around chanting or refusing to do things, but true cultural novelty in the right context. These movements startled the nations in which they took place: they created a feeling that something new and huge and revolutionary was going on in a society: a turning point so powerful that ordinary people were flooding out of their doors to join in.
Fast-forward several decades, and the image of lots of people marching around and disrupting things has lost its luster, novelty, and almost all of its power to influence a society. There’s no singular cultural turning point, no vast untapped energy for a specific change. In our modern media age, such marches are instead either brief news snippets or annoying commuter holdups. They are so commonplace and routinized that they’ve lost any sense of immediacy and authenticity. They’re dwarfed by other PR techniques in their effectiveness at getting a message out.
By and large, most of the public has become inoculated to the basic spectacle: they’ve seen a bazillion different groups running around trying to get attention. They’re both tired of it and even perhaps a little insulted by the idea that the people jostling for camera time are better informed than they are.
All that’s left to these mass protests is an in-group sense of accomplishment. A perspective-free feeling of being a part of something huge, coupled with amazingly silly delusions of there being any wider effectiveness to all the choir preaching. To wit:
The Alliance for Real Democracy, a coalition of 18 groups, is planning a week of classes in City Park on topics such as non violence and how to organize a demonstration. A concert with Denver band the Flobots also is in the works.
Lots of classes on how to hold demonstrations. Precious few, it seems, on why you’d want to hold a demonstration. Or, indeed, laying out the reasons for wasting time wobbling along to a local band concert when there’s a world waiting to be saved by the steady distribution of your pamphlets and DVDs about mysterious police microwave powers.
I’m not a huge fan of the Iraq war, but let’s have a little perspective. Where exactly was the Alliance for Real Democracy when Saddam was crushing his subjects under his bootheels and rape camps? How come they aren’t holding rallies in Robert Mugabe’s backyard? Those places have a lot less “real” democracy than here in the US. Is it narcissism, cowardice, or just lazy obliviousness that leads people to decide that the most pressing problems in the universe are just, by pure luck, within a convenient driving distance?
Then there’s the disquieting side of many protests: the omnipresent and almost excited obsession with how the police will respond to it all:
“We’re preparing for the police to be violent,” he [Ben Yager of Unconventional Denver] said, adding that the equipment purchased by police is likely to be used first on groups like his.
Now, longtime readers probably know that I’m a harsh critic of modern policing tactics, especially when either overly militarized or under scrutinized. But good grief: I’m generally talking about people exercising free speech, or even just sleeping happily in their beds until SWAT teams mistakenly bursts into their houses by accident and executes them for not waking up fast enough. That’s not quite what’s going on here. This is what Unconventional Denver (and groups like it, all going under the banner of “Disrupt the DNC“) is apparently known for:
Its approach is one of direct action, such as blocking access to corporate-funded parties or blocking delegates from leaving their hotels to go to the convention and vote.
Let’s translate that: they’re planning to harass people they don’t like to the point of nuisance and criminal trespass, refuse lawful orders to move, and then likely resist arrest (“non-violently,” of course). In other words, they intend to commit crimes, steadily ramp up non-compliance to the point where they can only be arrested, and they’re pre-emptively whining about police potentially reacting with crowd control tactics in response. That’s just pathetic.
So on top of public protests being nearly pointless in this day and age, the whole mess in many cases has basically devolved into an exercise in annoying the police, and perhaps hoping for some handi-cam footage of potential brutality. Local police, of course, have no power to stop the war in Iraq, admit that alien lasers were used to down the Twin Towers, or anything else. And yet street activists seem to think that butting heads with them is some sort of victory against… something. It’s revolutionary adventure chic with no sense or soul.
And it’s all, from my perspective just a way to avoid doing any actual work. The work of actually convincing people of your ideas instead of just trying to find a venue to scream them from. The work of real and effective political action.