Serious Change: dress like you're going to the most important job interview of your life
September 30, 2007 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Seriously pissed? How about serious change? Decades from now, no one will accuse our generation of not protesting enough, but you'll probably be making excuses for how we did it. No offense to those who have protested this way- your heart's in the right place and you've probably given lots of time and money to doing the right thing- but what if you're not helping? What if hundreds of thousands of people turned out in their very best, most serious clothes, with no puppets, no "clever" home-made signs, and no instruments? It's worked before. As Matt Taibbi put it in AdBusters (previously on MeFi), "Next thing you know, you’ve got guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats leading a half-million people at an anti-war rally. Why is that guy there? Because no one told him that war is a matter of life and death and that he should leave his fucking stilts at home." These things always start small, but who knows? This is serious- let's act like it. If you wouldn't bring it or wear it to your grandmother's funeral, leave it at home.
posted by paul_smatatoes (168 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, we should stop wars like the hippies did, all respectful like.

Oh wait, the hippies didn't stop the war. The body bags did.
posted by gwint at 11:17 AM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


What, you mean people should protest NOT to show off for the media? Why?! Don't step on my right to carry puppets/wear make-up, or hold witty signs, you facist! FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

Sorry... my inner attention whore slipped out.
posted by SansPoint at 11:18 AM on September 30, 2007


If only Gandhi wore more silly hats he would have brought an end to British colonial rule even faster.
posted by Falconetti at 11:26 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been strongly opposed to the Iraq war since the beginning, but I still want to smack a lot of the protesters. When did protests turn into goofy drug-addled circuses?

I can't even imagine how people who support the war feel about the protesters.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:31 AM on September 30, 2007


What do we want? PEACE!! Wen? DELL!!
posted by hermitosis at 11:32 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Decades from now no one will care. 54' 40" or fight!
posted by Captaintripps at 11:34 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


So your point is that the civil rights protests worked because the protesters dressed like they were going to a funeral?

Even Dr. Martin Luther King said that the only reason whites listened to him was because of the shadow of a black man with a molotov cocktail standing behind him. Protests don't work because they're civil, or polite; they work because of fear that they might stop being civil and polite. A good protest should always hint that this is the last stop before lunacy.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:38 AM on September 30, 2007 [24 favorites]


Yes, but the right kind of lunacy. The current batch of protests don't threaten the violent breakdown of ordered society. They threaten continued drug use and promiscuity by worthless hippie scum.

Not quite as scary.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:40 AM on September 30, 2007 [15 favorites]


Well, yes, Black Panthers with rifles is far more effective. But a lot of those guys died.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:46 AM on September 30, 2007


they work because of fear that they might stop being civil and polite. A good protest should always hint that this is the last stop before lunacy.

I live in Foggy Bottom. Not a week goes by when I don't see some rag-tag bunch of college kids stumbling down Pennsylvania avenue. You're kidding yourself if you think there's some sort of implied threat in these revels.

Taibbi is right. The days of bucking authority are over. Authority has clearly won. However, thanks to political action of the past, authority is more penetrable. All change from here on out is going to come from the inside, so you'd best start making martinis with that bottle of booze, shine your shoes with that rag, and light a cigar with those matches. I agitated and protested for over a year before I realized that "being the change" involved becoming the man, not parading around in tie-die and shouting at him.
posted by The White Hat at 11:49 AM on September 30, 2007 [9 favorites]


Decades from now, no one will accuse our generation of not protesting enough,

there's no draft. no draft = whatever

the protests are little more than a blip on the screen -- and less than a nuisance for the US administration -- because there's no draft, the war is invisible, a universe away -- the body count is just that, numbers in some website one does not really read anyway. Iraq, unlike Vietnam, is an abstraction (not to mention the -- as John McCain proudly calls them -- "gooks" had not destroyed two skyscrapers in New York and a big chunk of the Pentagon, so if possible the Ayrabs are even more unpopular than the Vietnamese)

only volunteers, in the military and in various mercenary outfits, are doing the dying on the American side, and some of them are not even American citizens to begin with. Iraqi civilians are being slaughtered at a much higher rate but that's just not important for the great majority of Americans, and anyway they've been liberated so they're not to complain -- eggs, omelets, etc.
posted by matteo at 11:50 AM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Also, let's not forget the problem of mixed messages. I've never seen a modern protest from the left that didn't have some jackass with a "FREE MUMIA" or "LEGALIZE IT" sign. If it's an anti-war protest, keep it on the war.

And fuck Mumia, seriously.
posted by SansPoint at 11:54 AM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I agitated and protested for over a year before I realized that "being the change" involved becoming the man, not parading around in tie-die and shouting at him.
posted by The White Hat at 11:49 AM on September 30


Wow. A whole year?
posted by perilous at 11:55 AM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


I agitated and protested for over a year before I realized that "being the change" involved becoming the man, not parading around in tie-die and shouting at him.

If you wanna beat the man you gotta be the man.
posted by Tube at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2007


I think this is a great idea, I guess that I think all serious political discourse should be reasonable dialogue. Not that I have a problem with drawing the media attention or self-expression in general, but I agree it is a good idea to make more serious statements. The problem that is really unacceptable is that politicians are making a similar song-and-dance shitshow out of campaigning for office.
posted by MNDZ at 12:00 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


You're the man now, dog.
posted by wsg at 12:00 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


I stopped going to anti-war protests in Seattle because of this bullshit. Stilts, puppet heads, Rappin' Grannies, Free Mumia, Free Tibet, Free Bird, body paint, dudes in skirts, fucking LaRouchies and Socialists handing out their propaganda - it's a joke. I can't even take it seriously, and I'm marching - how is anyone ELSE supposed to?
posted by tristeza at 12:08 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


No, that's not a strategy. That may qualify as a tactic. But a tactic divorced from strategy is just the 'noise before defeat.'

To make this really serious, you'd want to link it to an actual bill in the House or Senate, and you'd want to figure out who the swing votes are, and you'd want to find out who those congresspeople's own voters (particularly their swing voters) are, and you'd want to have those people get in touch with them. And maybe it's by marching wearing something specific, but if Rep. Whoever hates protests and loves, I don't know, Nascar? Then maybe you just need to convince one Nascar driver to make a comment on TV. The "how" needs to relate to an actual legislative goal, and needs to be associated with a more overarching strategy, and there needs to be some thought put into it.

Nine questions for evaluating advocacy campaigns. [pdf]
Planning and evaluating tactics.
posted by salvia at 12:08 PM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I am totally down with this. For a long time I wondered if I wasn't some closet fascist for hating the current form of protesting: Clowns and silly outfits and routines and MEMEMEMEMEMEMEMEMEMEMEMELOOKITMECAMERALOOKITMEMA. And then I realized it wasn't because I wanted everyone to look the same, it was because I wanted the movement to draw respect. I wanted people to listen. And people don't listen to clowns, they laugh at them.
posted by schroedinger at 12:11 PM on September 30, 2007 [12 favorites]


The current batch of protests don't threaten the violent breakdown of ordered society. They threaten continued drug use and promiscuity by worthless hippie scum.

The last time I went to a march*, which was one just prior to the invasion, I saw thousands of middle class couples pushing kids in strollers. Kids in Cat In The Hat hats were in the >1 percentile. The only paper mache creation I saw was a globe of the Earth being tossed around by a small crew of people in matching t-shirts. The globe part was not the part of that I found irritating. Now if you were bitching about matching t-shirts or banning families with kids in strollers, I might sign on. But bitching about cliches no one really seems to be observing at marches anymore is so old, you know what I mean ?

And if the media focuses in on the miniscule few twerps who do show up at marches in such garb, what are you going to do ? Send some security guards in matching brown t-shirts to beat them up ? Dress codes for marches. Oh, that's going to work....

I will say this about marches--if you do go on one, you might get the feeling you might be part of something larger than just you yelling at your tv or monitor.

*But, on the other hand, you made me remember the coolest part of that march--which was how the monorail drivers were honking their horns every time they passed overhead. Man, that was such a lift.
posted by y2karl at 12:12 PM on September 30, 2007 [6 favorites]


Step one is getting ANSWER the fuck out of the protesting business.

There has to be a better alternative than a Communist organization for putting these things together.
posted by empath at 12:16 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Photos from an anti-war rally in S.F. on March 17, 2007.

"ZombieTime Hall of Shame" of lefty rallies (some of which are not specifically anti-war).

The last time I linked to these here, I was accused of "carrying water for the neocons." Yeah, whatever.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:17 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


i say we hire a goon squad to break heads and teach those undisciplined punks how to exercise their freedoms properly
posted by pyramid termite at 12:18 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not so much the crazy costumes. It's that the people, when you talk to them, are obviously there to garner attention to themselves rather than the problem. I've talked to people who hardly know what they were protesting about, and people who go to every protest, no matter what it is about, to gather attention to their pet problem (which may not even be related to the one at hand). And don't even get me started on the ridiculous people who consider themselves 'professional activists'.

I've given up on the thought that protest works at all. Better you take that time and energy and take over your local government and make it do what you want. Mostly when I bring that up I get get blank stares or snorts of derision. That would require hard work. And less silly costumes.
posted by overhauser at 12:21 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Which is a longer version of the The White Hat said.
posted by overhauser at 12:26 PM on September 30, 2007


i have participated in more protests than i can count. there were occupations of offices, marches, performance art, sit-ins and sit-downs and kiss-ins and die-ins, blockades, and lock-downs. i've done them all, and i loved participating in them. i've been arrested. i've refused to pay fines. i've spoken out and written letters and lost sleep and skinned my knees and hands and avoided tear gas, gone hungry and been shouted down and spat on and ridiculed.

however, i challenge anyone i've ever participated with (or anyone else really) to show me one thing we accomplished *besides* a sense of solidarity. we won a few to our side, but they were usually mostly on our side anyway. we alienated more. we never closed the ELF site in Wisconsin, it became obsolete. we never stopped a forest from being logged--we saved a few trees for a little while at best, while lawyers did their work. we never stopped corporations from polluting--that happened, if at all, in courtrooms. we didn't stop nuclear bombs or police brutality or preserve abortion rights.

even the argument that it creates awareness--the idea of "consciousness-raising" leaves me a little chilled, because the ones who count are already aware. they just don't give a damn.

i have now come to the conclusion that protests are for those who can't think of anything else to do (in regards to a particular issue--i don't mean that they should "get a real job"). organizing for real change is quieter, more frustrating and truly a lot more about lifelong drudgery than anything else.

Vietnam was stopped by the fact that they were losing. same goes for this war--we've had the biggest protests in the history of the planet. not a thing has happened except the politicians got a wee little bit louder. (but are any of the viable candidates going to stop the war? no.) protests only work in places where they can be seen as shocking and new. (naked protesting in Africa, for example. or the Civil Rights Movement.) there is no way to make traditional protesting work in the US today. (and witness the horror of Burma, where it seemed for a moment there... but no.) even in Jena recently... getting a guy out on bail happened because someone with a lot of cash decided to help. okay--consciousness raising. it worked that time. but if they continue in Jena, it will only mean the townsfolk get bored with it. and don't get me started on the acceptance of "protest zones."

protesting is fun. i am happy people do it. but i have that boring old drudgery to do, the kind that might actually save our asses from the fire. god, i miss believing in it. i miss the thrill of the drumbeats or songs echoing between the canyons of a city, or the feeling of change just around the corner. but something has to be around that corner besides another street.

so when the young and tear-gassed eye me up like i'm some sort of traitor for staying home...
oh, who am i kidding? i was one of them. i understand the belief and the frustration with the old and apparently tamed.

so i don't say much, because i have work to do before i die.
posted by RedEmma at 12:43 PM on September 30, 2007 [89 favorites]


i should add, i guess, that as much as i have a romantic sort of nostalgia for the idea of a "resistance" or the backup of violence to stop corporate fascism, i don't think that works either. the government will always have better guns and technology.

we have to go around them, using all our talents and knowledge to make the world more free, and make it less possible for them to stop it. make freedom something they try to grasp and control and fail because it's like water in a gloved fist.

protesting in suits is just another costume--same game, different dress-up.
posted by RedEmma at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Even Dr. Martin Luther King said that the only reason whites listened to him was because of the shadow of a black man with a molotov cocktail standing behind him. Protests don't work because they're civil, or polite; they work because of fear that they might stop being civil and polite. A good protest should always hint that this is the last stop before lunacy.

A dipshit on stilts or a bunch of aging overweight naked chicks covered in paint and overgrown body hair are not nearly as menacing as a shadow of a black man with a Molotov cocktail. Especially when juxtaposed on a row of cops in full riot gear. I fail to imagine panic in the streets when a guy wearing a fucking Yoda mask stops being polite.
posted by c13 at 12:54 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


The response we received before, during, and after the protest has been astonishing. Our articles were featured twice on the front page of reddit.com ...
Oh my, the masters of war must be quaking in their boots. Internet != doing something, people.
posted by scruss at 12:58 PM on September 30, 2007


You cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

The value of having those smelly hippie protesters out there on the barricades is that it makes those suit-wearing advocates for change look so much more reasonable. Dr. King's backup (the molotov-throwing black man) was not simply a violent threat, but also acted as a counterbalance: Dr. King's demand for civil rights becomes quite reasonable when those farther out on the pendulum's swing are rioting for free love, education, and an end to capitalism.
posted by rtha at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


We're missing something obvious. I don't know what it is, but somehow I feel that future generations are going to wonder "why didn't they simply do X?". I don't know what X is, and I know that we're probably going to be ashamed of us not doing X when our grandchildren tell us what it is.

My only hope is that the next generations know what X is, so that this shit doesn't happen again.

Different shit will probably happen, but it will be slightly better than the shit we have happening right now, and this way, in small steps, humanity grows.

After all, making people wear yellow stars on their clothing isn't going to work anymore, right?
posted by DreamerFi at 1:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Stilts, puppet heads, Rappin' Grannies, Free Mumia, Free Tibet, Free Bird, body paint, dudes in skirts, fucking LaRouchies and Socialists...

That's not a protest. That's Burning Man!
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on September 30, 2007


protesting is fun. i am happy people do it. but i have that boring old drudgery to do, the kind that might actually save our asses from the fire. god, i miss believing in it. i miss the thrill of the drumbeats or songs echoing between the canyons of a city, or the feeling of change just around the corner. but something has to be around that corner besides another street.

so when the young and tear-gassed eye me up like i'm some sort of traitor for staying home...
oh, who am i kidding? i was one of them. i understand the belief and the frustration with the old and apparently tamed.

so i don't say much, because i have work to do before i die.


Quoted at length just so I could add a resounding 'yes'.
posted by jokeefe at 1:11 PM on September 30, 2007


The reason professional attire would be more effective is because the immediate reaction to seeing such a protest on television, or in a newspaper, would be to think that the nation's lawyers, schoolteachers, insurance agents, engineers, bankers, and secretaries have decided to lay down their work and take to the streets in a show of no-confidence for the government/war/what have you. Basically, people with jobs and livelihoods and bosses, immediately and simultaneously deciding to suffer the consequences of leaving their desks for a few hours. I look at those pictures of the San Francisco and Berkeley protesters and the first thing that comes to mind is that those people do not have jobs. Perhaps an unfair assumption, but still. I know that my civil-spidey-senses would tingle watching a solemn march of well-dressed, serious Americans slowly making their way toward the White House at 2:00 on a random Thursday afternoon.
posted by billysumday at 1:13 PM on September 30, 2007 [13 favorites]


And then I realized it wasn't because I wanted everyone to look the same, it was because I wanted the movement to draw respect.

Real anger has been known to get results.
posted by ericb at 1:15 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


ericb, I'm not arguing against real anger. The work of ACTUP indeed represented real anger in a powerful, meaningful way. People speaking their minds forcefully and eloquently are not what I'm arguing against. However, naked people on stilts painting themselves with peace signs and wearing clown wigs are slightly different from the AIDS sufferers and civil rights marchers who got results.
posted by schroedinger at 1:21 PM on September 30, 2007


Well, if the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran I will travel from Missouri to D.C. for my very first protest and I promise to dress age appropriate.
posted by wrapper at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2007


You cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's tools.

That's one of those protest aphorisms that, frankly, makes no sense to me. Maybe by calling all the tools "the master" uses "the master's tools", you're not leaving yourself any tools? Maybe if you used them, instead, without using them for what "the master" uses them, you might make a difference? I mean, in the most literal sense, if you dismantle the master's house, that fucker doesn't have a house any more, right? And some of those tools can probably be used to build houses out of all that lumber that's suddenly going to waste.

And in the more abstract sense, the country doesn't look like the protests that have taken place, which leads to lots of people feeling as though, while they oppose warrantless wiretapping, secret prisons, and torture, open opposition is a "fringe" position. If millions of people across the country turned out looking like average people doing their best, it could bring a lot of people together. Maybe it'd even help end the day-to-day outrages against the constitution and the bill of rights.

Sure, any real change is going to come from boring day-to-day work in local politics, but I think it doesn't take much to reclaim protests for real life-or-death seriousness while you're doing that, and it certainly couldn't hurt.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


There was a vid at YouTube, I can't find the exact URL currently (*ahem* can't get there from here at the mo) but I think I favorited it. This guy was describing how police dress up as protesters and carry rocks then try to force a disturbance and make it look like the protesters started attacking the cops. All they gotta do is blend in and then make the first move.

When you send a call out for a volunteer protest rally, you never know who you're going to get. Essentially you think numbers are all you need, but unless those numbers consist of robots and sheep, you're not gonna have a crowd of like-minded individuals. You'll have scores if not hundreds of people, each with their own agenda. Each with unique approaches to bringing attention to their own perspective.

Some people go to them in (often futile) search of like-minded individuals, in a world where they feel out of place. It's a social gathering for some. Not everyone's trying to save the world, but just cling to their little piece of it. If they can help somebody else save the world while they enjoy their place within in, all the better. If their presence doesn't make a difference, they won't know, will they?

I find protests both beautiful and meaningless, but they are meaningful for those who are inside them and perhaps that's the important thing.

I once found myself in downtown Dallas one cheery spring morning soon after GWB had taken that left turn in Alberquerque and heading for Afghanistan we wound up in Iraq. I witnessed close to a thousand people gathering for an anti-war parade. This is Texas, mind you. GWB came from here (although really he was born in Connecticut and this being a Texan thing is a lie, but that's splitting hairs).

I wasn't a part of the protest myself. I was on my lunch break. I was just observing because as I said, I find protest marches beautiful if meaningless.

I noticed that from the crowd about twenty or thirty dark-skinned men began congregating. They were looking about and some of them were carrying bundles. A racist streak in me instinctively assumed I might be witnessing a 'problem' developing, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

It was near noon. They were looking for a place where in unison, they could kneel and pray to their God. When they were looking around, they were trying to determine which way was Mecca.

There was something almost hypnotic about the melodic drone of their prayers in their native tongue, and the uniform look of their actions which sent shivers down my spine. With the chaotic hubbub of a thousand noisy liberals not ten feet away. Prostrated upon mats they carried with them just for this purpose, twenty-five or thirty some odd dark men in comfortable-looking clothes aimed themselves towards Mecca and prayed. A few nonmuslims in the crowd looked over to see the placid meditation happening in their midst, but most were too busy with their signs and stilts and puppets and various strange costumes and megaphones to watch these devout men appeal to their god. Pearls before swine. Diamonds in the rough. In all honesty I couldn't tell if they were there to bless the parade or beg god to rain hellfire and brimstone. It's just that the noon hour was there, and they stopped what they were doing in order to obey their holy allegiance.

Like I said. Beautiful.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:24 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


I have been saying this forever and am delighted to see this movement take shape. I have been to nearly every major anti-war rally in DC since the war started, and always dress like I am serious. I am always appalled at the childish street theater and the conjoining of irrelevant other issues to the anti-war movement's momentum -- but especially the pro-Mumia and anti-Israel issues and the anarchists. It looks silly and undermines the serious purpose and broad coalition of the anti-war movement. And Mumia killed a fucking cop, so whatever you think of his sentence, you are not going to win hearts and minds holding up free Mumia signs if your goal is change a broad swath of public opinion.

Yay.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:37 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Decades from now, we'll all look back and laugh at all this. Maybe shed a tear or two.

Or maybe we'll all be too busy fighting to care.
posted by Balisong at 1:38 PM on September 30, 2007


I used to hang out with really political people- generally people with very similar politics to mine- and it drove them nuts that I wouldn't protest. I kept saying the same thing- it doesn't fucking accomplish anything because the authorities don't give half a damn what the populace thinks and they sure as fuck don't care what peaceful protestors think.

Their response? Protesting "radicalises" people. Well, fuck, if all that does it get them to go to protests, what's the fucking point to begin with?
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:44 PM on September 30, 2007


As someone pointed out earlier in the thread, it wasn't the hippies who stopped Vietnam. It was the bodybags. I'm not aware of a war in history which was stopped by peace protests.

Don't think for a heartbeat that an anti-war rally is going to change the course of history; especially if you only do it in 'free speech zones.' Even if a thousand people were to 'congregate' on the lawn of the whitehouse, all you would do is get yourselves hurt.

Dress however you like when you go to your rallies and protests. I hope you find yourself a little misses and yall go off and make little protesters.

Live your life. Make it beautiful. Some things are slightly more important than whose in power and what they listen to.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:45 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Even Dr. Martin Luther King said that the only reason whites listened to him was because of the shadow of a black man with a molotov cocktail standing behind him.

There was more to it than that. African American leaders wanted protestors dressed in Sunday best, or at least like they were going to do business. The reasoning was twofold. First, it was part of the overall "we must represent ourselves with dignity" meme -- that is, African Americans must always show that they are not only willing to self-improve, they are self-improving. Second, it was to make the protests look formal and serious, because these were formal and serious issues. In a sense, it was to make them look like good churchgoing people (which they were anyway).

If African Americans had shown no passive resistance streak and only went for militancy, then White Middle America wouldn't have batted an eye at military action against them. What King meant in that statement was that he gave people of conscience a reason to have a conscience and a reason to consider the petitions of the NAACP/SCLC.
posted by dw at 1:49 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


brilliant!

*irons socks*
posted by sexyrobot at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


For some reason I am reminded of this.
posted by moonbiter at 1:54 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]



As someone pointed out earlier in the thread, it wasn't the hippies who stopped Vietnam. It was the bodybags. I'm not aware of a war in history which was stopped by peace protests.

Yes. it's that simple. the massive nationwide protests did absolutely nothing. I suppose the "hippies" in the civil rights movement had no effect on anything either.

it's amazing the lengths people will go to to convince themselves that smugly sitting back and doing nothing is somehow right and noble.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:59 PM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


However, naked people on stilts painting themselves with peace signs and wearing clown wigs are slightly different from the AIDS sufferers and civil rights marchers who got results.

Agree with you 100%.
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on September 30, 2007


- but especially the pro-Mumia and anti-Israel issues and the anarchists. It looks silly and undermines the serious purpose and broad coalition of the anti-war movement. And Mumia killed a fucking cop, so whatever you think of his sentence, you are not going to win hearts and minds holding up free Mumia signs if your goal is change a broad swath of public opinion.

Agreed. i think these protests are pretty analogous to craisglist- started with noble intent and full of good stuff, but the low bar to entry that makes them a soapbox the insane and incoherent just can't pass up.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2007


And just because I was looking at these two images at the same time:

Selma, 1965.
San Francisco, 2007.
posted by dw at 2:02 PM on September 30, 2007 [8 favorites]


it's amazing the lengths people will go to to convince themselves that smugly sitting back and doing nothing is somehow right and noble.

Nice strawman. You're right--I don't throw on tie-dye clothing, carry a sign that says "IMPEECH BUSH NOWZ!!!", so that means I don't care. Fundraising isn't important! Working behind the scenes isn't important! We don't need people who run the lobbying groups and act as secretaries for the ACLU and coordinate food drop-offs at the local food bank and try to organize donations and clients for the annual Christmas giving tree! These people are important! The topless women, the people with signs saying "Kikes out of Lebanon", these are the freedom fighters. These are the guys making a difference.

I have said the same thing in another AskMe question. You people who smugly sit back and call the non-protestors traitors and lazy for not marching--what are you doing besides marching? Running for city council? Perhaps organizing a neighborhood watchgroup? Maybe running a tutoring program for local poor urban kids? No, those things aren't necessary, because you have your boombox playing the third-string punk rock bands with the two-chord anti-Bush songs and you are out marching and making a REAL difference.
posted by schroedinger at 2:05 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


Live your life. Make it beautiful. Some things are slightly more important than whose in power and what they listen to.

Tell it to the dead.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [9 favorites]


(Also--posted before I read your second comment, so I apologize as my response is probably off-base after reading your clarification)
posted by schroedinger at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2007


hey, i never said it had to be about the war. dressing very seriously for a massive protest against, say, warrantless wiretapping, torture, and secret prisons would probably do a shitload of good.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 2:11 PM on September 30, 2007


Ah yeah, because what any political movement really needs is petty infighting and pigeon-holing between "hippies" and "hipsters."

If I had to pick one reason, though, I'd say that the largest penal system in human history is able to swallow any real civil disobedience without flinching an eyebrow.

The key to civil disobedience isn't dressing pretty, it's shutting down the system--a large part of which means flooding the prison system until it breaks. Ever see a picture of Gandhi before the salt march? Who do you think the Brits took more seriously, a lawyer, or a dude dressed in rags? He was really dressing to speak to his fellow protesters, so I suppose there is an argument to be made for the importance of dress, but you're not dressing to impress the powers that be, you're dressing to bring in more ground-level support.

In any event, the media is going to focus on the most outlandish people attending. The vast, vast, vast majority of protesters are already attending in normal, mainstream respectable clothing. Unless you're willing to have an exclusive movement and the threat of force necessary to back that up, you're always going to have goof-offs.

Not that Serious Change doesn't make a good point about creating a safe protesting space for professionals, but the poster here clearly didn't read their own links. Serious Change is advocating a diversity of tactics, not infighting.
posted by Skwirl at 2:17 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Protesting works. It just has to be done on topic, consistently, and with uniformity of message and purpose.
posted by tkchrist at 2:19 PM on September 30, 2007 [4 favorites]


a) Since the dawn of time, the hippies and smartly suited individuals have worked hand and hand. See the bevy of lawyers volunteering to do legal support for antiwar and campaigning cases, for example. Trade unions give us funding for the buses.

b) A demonstration has always been filled with what we now refer to as "hipsters." (Or is it that the hipsters avoid the protest? I can never remember.) But they serve the more important purpose of keeping a certain group of people trained and practiced at mobilising public opposition in the centres of power. Dozens of different skills - publicity, organising, book keeping, reporting, web design and more - go into any protest.

c) Solidarity is the primary purpose of the demonstration. People start there, and then they get the opportunity to learn about all kinds of ways of being part of the solution. One hopes that many of these young people will go into work helping people in need or fighting for change through politics. I think I like the fact that these essential people will have learned their politics at demonstrations!

d) The people on the inside need the demonstrators to keep them honest. Access to power leads to compromise, personal politics get in the way and thus many a charity, NGO, etc. is corrupted.

e) We are a generation of adults who like Legos and get our popular culture off the Internet. There'[s going to be Billionaires for Bush and various other memes. I am fine with it, but then I like Talk Like a Pirate Day, too. :)
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:34 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Agreed, tkchrist.

Beats bitchin' on teh internets, that's for goddamned sure.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:35 PM on September 30, 2007


maybe these people can help
posted by pyramid termite at 2:36 PM on September 30, 2007


The biggest problem with modern American liberalism may be the word itself. There’s just something about the word, liberal, something about the way it sounds – it just hits the ear wrong.

The problem isn't the way it sounds, it's the relentless, decades long campaign conservatives waged to turn it bad.
posted by delmoi at 2:39 PM on September 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


it's the relentless, decades long campaign conservatives waged to turn it bad.

which is now turning into a relentless orgy of self-blaming and self-conscious preening before the hard conservative gaze so we won't get judged so harshly

we may as well be hung for wolves as for dogs
posted by pyramid termite at 2:41 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Live your life. Make it beautiful. Some things are slightly more important than whose in power and what they listen to.

I think the Iraqis might disagree with that view.
posted by delmoi at 2:48 PM on September 30, 2007


TKChrist: "Protesting works"

Protesting SO doesn't work. If ever you were given that impression, it was coincidental. Oh and by the way, Santa Claus isn't real, Star Wars is just a movie, and Angelina Jolie would never have sex with you. Sorry to crush all of your dreams, but it had to be done.

DrJimmy11: "it's amazing the lengths people will go to to convince themselves that smugly sitting back and doing nothing is somehow right and noble."

Right and noble? Goodness no. Whatever gave you that impression? Nowadays I go out of my way to avoid being right and noble. Who wants to be a hero? Being a hero can get you killed. Right and noble gets you shot at. Puts a target on your chest. Builds you up just to knock you down. Uses up calories and diminishes body fat. Just ask Martin Luther King. Oh wait, you can't. Why? Cuz he got shot at, and now he's dead.

Not sure where you get your information, Doctor Jimmy. You think it's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, but you have it backwards. It's better to live on your feet than to die on your knees. Smugly sitting back and doing nothing is far from noble. It's oh so deliciously wrong, but it feels so good. It guarantees I'll die from heart failure due to my sedentary lifestyle, but I won't die of lead poisoning, or getting trampled on during a peace rally that turns into a police action. You guys'll get trampled on. I'll be watching CNN, probably while eating popcorn.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:50 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


pyramid termite- i hate putting it this way, but re: wolves/dogs, who gets closer to the sheep?

the word "liberal" might be easier to reclaim if liberal protests looked like "hard-working people who want to make the world a better place" instead of "attention-starved people who think they'll blow ur square mind with painted boobies and/or a che guevara poster".
posted by paul_smatatoes at 2:53 PM on September 30, 2007


Careful there Cool Papa your going to spill the water.

overhauser said "don't even get me started on the ridiculous people who consider themselves 'professional activists'."

Don't even get me started on the ridiculous people who call themselves professional politicians. Voting in all those democrats who said they wanted to stop the war didn't quite turn out the way it was supposed to. You can't even show the body bags from this war in the media.

If you require a suit and tie to protest you will end up looking like this or this or this.

Free Huey!
posted by Sailormom at 2:55 PM on September 30, 2007


Protesting works. It just has to be done on topic, consistently, and with uniformity of message and purpose.

And in support of what the authorities were going to do anyway.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:02 PM on September 30, 2007


Blogs tend to be the legitimate, reasonable form of protest now. Look at the political power DailyKos wields.

Of course, the problem is Kos is too much a Democratic Party blog right now.

The commentators on the site talk about how cowardly the democrats in congress are for not defunding the war, but how long are the democrats going to refuse to act before Kos decides to defund the democrats? It's not going to happen, so why should congress give a fuck what Kos wants if the money is never going to dry up?

I think the left would be much better off now if their main online hub wasn't so determined to support the democrats no matter what.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:02 PM on September 30, 2007


DelMoi: "it just hits the ear wrong."

Liberal hits the ear wrong nowadays. So does Conservative. So does pretty much anything political. I don't see how either side won in their shirts vs skins skirmish. I can't tell which ones are wearing the shirts. Oh wait. That's right. They're all on the same team. We're the ones losing our shirts. Silly me. I forgot.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:05 PM on September 30, 2007


completly disagree. Matt Taibbi can suck my stilts.

Hey, Matt, why don't you and all your friends go to a protest dressed in uniform? You could wear nice brown ones, and I hear truncheons make for a very clear path before you.


You are everything wrong with the left and the anti-war movement today, you fucking lifestyle leftist.

Is it saying that current protests are ineffective that makes him a fascist, or just that you disagree with him?
posted by Snyder at 3:06 PM on September 30, 2007


And in support of what the authorities were going to do anyway.

How does this apply to the Civil Rights movement?

posted by Snyder at 3:07 PM on September 30, 2007


Live your life. Make it beautiful. Some things are slightly more important than who is in power and what they listen to.

Pop Guilty: "Tell it to the dead."

Make me.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:09 PM on September 30, 2007


wolves/dogs, who gets closer to the sheep?

they're too busy fighting each other to get close to the sheep - in fact a good many of them seem to have completely forgotten there are such things as sheep
posted by pyramid termite at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


telstarsays: "Hey, Matt, why don't you and all your friends go to a protest dressed in uniform? You could wear nice brown ones, and I hear truncheons make for a very clear path before you."

taibbi's essay is about how your attitude weakens the left, and comparing him to a Nazi Brownshirt (!!!!!) for saying that just makes you look like the greater ass. who else do you call a Nazi for disagreeing with you?
posted by paul_smatatoes at 3:13 PM on September 30, 2007


Captaintripps: Decades from now no one will care. 54' 40" or fight!

For you maybe. As for me, I'll never recognize Canada's claim to Vancouver Island.
posted by Kattullus at 3:19 PM on September 30, 2007


The last time I linked to these here, I was accused of "carrying water for the neocons." Yeah, whatever.

Someone get him a band-aid.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2007


Excellent and important idea! Thanks for your post paul_smatatoes.

I'm so glad somebody has articulated this and taken action to improve the clout of the anti-war protesting and make protesting something most people can see themselves doing, without putting on some histrionic outfit, which, for the most part, trivializes the significance of speaking out against war.

When I was a kid protesting the Vietnam War, I remember very few people dressed up in costumes. The great majority of people were sober, respectful and there wasn't a circus atmosphere at all. If somebody did on occasion dress up in a costume it was specifically to make a political point. In those days not dressing in a suit was a kind of political statement for educated white folk. Whereas wearing a suit for black Amercicans was another kind of political statement.

These days Westerners take for granted wearing all kinds of clothing, which up to the 60's were considered taboo for one reason or another. So I don't think wearing wild clothing to an anti-war protest is of any constructive significance.

The police, onlookers on TV, will, I think, definitely respond differently to people dressed in business clothes. Wearing a business suit sends a specific message, that the people who make money, adult taxpayers dressed in the clothing of making their living, do not want war.

Seconding the opinions of MNDZ and schroedinger.
posted by nickyskye at 3:21 PM on September 30, 2007


Protesting SO doesn't work.

Orange Revolution.
posted by rtha at 3:41 PM on September 30, 2007


Okay, to be serious. I once took part in organizing a sit-in at the Icelandic Ministry in support of a teachers' strike. It was me and the youth division of a communist organization. I had to fight the whole time go keep things on message. Not everyone, but a sizable number of the young communists wanted to use the opportunity to agitate for a general strike. That's right, a general strike. After a lengthy debate I finally managed to convince everyone else to stay on message. And things went pretty well, we got into all the major newspapers and tv newshours and managed to counter the governing political parties' spin that the students didn't support their teachers.

However, we didn't have to deal with American media. The Serious Change people have a lot of faith in the media. I think that if there's a million people wearing suits and ties, and ten people wearing clown suits, the media's gonna take pictures of the guys in the clown suits.
posted by Kattullus at 3:42 PM on September 30, 2007


Eh, that's bullshit. Any attempt to adopt conservative tropes will do nothing but strengthen the status quo. Any submission to the ruling class, no matter how trivial, invalidates the entire movement and brings the conflict back into the tit-for-tat domain of politics. Only those revolutionary movements that have adopted extra-political principles and aimed at the complete elimination of the ruling class have ever achieved real, lasting change.

(And using the Civil Rights as an example of a successful movement? Yes because modern American blacks have come so far, all the way from the gutters of de jure segregation to the gutters of de facto segregation.)

The absolute worst thing the liberal movement could do would be to give in to propagandistic notions of 'seriousness'. There is simply nothing more effective at keeping the bees in the line than this threat of being branded as 'not serious' in the face of 'matters of life and death.'. This is conservatism's nuclear gesture, the revealing of the true mask of reality before which any and all serious criticism and change is simply impossible. If you want to see the effect of adopting such an understanding then you need look no further than the modern Democratic party which has been completely and hopelessly neutralized by the mere threat of being branded 'unserious.'

The only problem with the liberal protest movement is that it fails to mount a comprehensive, sustained, violent critique of the center. The 'thousand little causes' of the left are just meaningless noise compared to the right's remarkable, decades-long campaign involving everything from bombing abortion clinics to taking over the GOP's state operations. Such a campaign requires a clear understanding of an enemy and it's here where the conservatives really shine and the liberals lose. While the right has no shortage of bogeyman to unite against the left consistently refuses to engage anything or anyone. It operates on the naieve belief that is can do politics without scraping its knuckle
posted by nixerman at 3:44 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


Ok. I agree with the thrust of this post and the sentiment of many in this thread. And I would never wear such a shirt because it speaks of a certainty I don't think is warranted or reasonable, but the Mumia situation is a little more complex than "fuck Mumia". Although I understand the sentiment.
posted by psmith at 3:50 PM on September 30, 2007


Protest of 100,000 people in Japan this week who wanted the truth to be known, not edited.
posted by nickyskye at 3:52 PM on September 30, 2007


paul_smatatoes: That's b/c that quote is misquoted so very often. Basically, Audre Lorde was saying "Hey, straight, white, middle class feminists, you know how you are all 'straight, white, middle class women are people too?' And then you turn around and exclude poor women, lesbians, & women of color? Dude, that's not cool. Differences between women should be celebrated and embraced not just tolerated or denigrated as is done in mainstream society."

Most of her speech is here. Here is the relevant part:
As women, we have been taught to either ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community, there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor that pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are black, who are older, know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.

posted by nooneyouknow at 3:52 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


metafilter: give in to propagandistic notions of 'seriousness'
posted by paul_smatatoes at 3:55 PM on September 30, 2007


just pointlessly writing a comment in support of RedEmma because "+1 favorite" doesn't seem to say it strongly enough.

I gave up believing in protests after the london marches. A HUGE proportion of the entire population - around one person in every 60 in the country - travelled there to march. In polls 80% of the population were opposed to the war. There were probably more than a million marchers in London, millions more in other cities around the world, most of them not wearing normal clothes and marching quite solemnly (in London, at least, there were so many people there wasn't room to do much else).

As RedEmma said, all it did was fill the marchers with an illusory sense of their power and the warmth of solidarity. It did nothing to stop the march to war which rumbled on, barely pausing. The most lasting effect of the marches has been a collapse of faith in political processes, despair and apathy.

Blaming the failure on silly hats is just avoiding the obvious fact that protesting like that just doesn't work anymore (In the west, at least). Protest marches started to become effective with the rise of the mass media, and worked while those in power were still naive about how to use the media. not anymore.
posted by silence at 4:00 PM on September 30, 2007 [5 favorites]


Here's what I think the issue is:

I don't WANT a revolution. I don't WANT 'change'. Bush and the neo-cons WERE the revolution, the invasion of Iraq WAS the change. I would just like a return to sanity.

There's no possible way those crazy fucking lefties and anarchists are going to get us anything approaching sanity. Sanity doesn't come from some guy walking on stilts and giant puppet heads.
posted by empath at 4:02 PM on September 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


Protesting SO doesn't work.

Orange Revolution.


An excellent example, rtha - not sure it it's in the way you meant it, though. Look at this image from Kiev, notice how the willingness to adopt a single colour and the singular message of the protests creates not just a spirit but an image of real solidarity. For the many reasons being enumerated here - from stilt walkers to Free Mumia banners - that image (and I'd argue to some extent that feeling) of true solidarity is absent from contemporary antiwar protests.

Think of the symbolic power of even just a general agreement on colour. White, say, for peace. Buy a bunch of used t-shirts by the pound from Goodwill, hand them out at the front of the march.

Could be doubly effective. Because beyond solidarity, the only lasting power of the modern political protest seems to be at the level of the image and soundbite, which is why cohesion and clarity are so important. A sea of white - no way to guarantee how it'll look on CNN, but that's way more likely to resonate in ten seconds or less than some showboating jackass wearing a ten-foot-high puppet head.
posted by gompa at 4:04 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


And, by the way, if you want a protest to really work, you need to be able to disrupt the economic system. In the US that would take protests of almost unimaginable scale. The major religious groups and labor unions would need to organize it. There would need to be a general strike. Factories and government buildings would need to be occupied.

I'm not even sure a nuclear first-strike by us against Iran would cause that to happen. MAYBE if elections were suspended.
posted by empath at 4:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


paul_smatatoes' point that "the country doesn't look like the protests that have taken place, which leads to lots of people feeling [...] open opposition is a "fringe" position" is worth repeating. Open opposition should be something that everyone can feel a part of, else freedom of speech and of assembly are meaningless.

Building a successful campaign should be about creating accessibility and lowering barriers to mass participation. Unlike some people here, I do believe that direct action can be a useful tactic, but that it's useless unless it takes place in the context of a strong participatory protest movement. I think that's what far-left groups don't get (or want to encourage, because it implies a loss of control).

on preview: silence - the London stop the war march should have been the start of something extraordinary. The failure of the Stop the War Coalition to build on that event (and their subsequent horrific infighting) borders on the criminal.
posted by patricio at 4:07 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow, it makes more sense that way- it's just it's not the first time that talking about dressing like the subject at hand matters has gotten me that response, as if the mere existence of that quote refutes treating dire matters with seriousness. "wear a suit? why not carry a whip and wear a solid gold miter!"
posted by paul_smatatoes at 4:07 PM on September 30, 2007


The mention of the Orange Revolution is oddly salient, since Ukraine is having another election -- today. Seems like a ongoing stuggle there.

One could compare those protests and their effects to the "people power" movement that toppled the Marcos' in the Philippines (successful) or Tienanmen Square in China (not). Whether there is a valid comparison to Western street protests regarding the war is another question, and one that I can't answer.

Anyhow, put me down in the "doubtful" camp on the effectiveness of most protests in the US. Singleness of mind and purpose, moral authority, good media, and lots of luck come into play for these things to achieve their stated aims.
posted by Robert Angelo at 4:14 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


For some reason I thought of this fantastic rant from the Peep Show sitcom in the UK when reading this.

In the UK it is now a rite of passage to go on a protest. You go to T-in-the-Park or Glastonbury (tick the box), you spend your gap year 'helping the natives' build an unwanted latrine (tick the box), you buy an ironic t-shirt from Urban Outfitters so you look like a mid 80s truckdriver from Arkansas (tick the box). You are now a rounded person who will be able to bore people in years to come with your xerox tales of rebellion. The result of all of this is that protesting becomes commodified where people are more bothered about what they wear than why they are going and what they want to achieve.

I think the situation in Iraq is truly horrible and when I see some news report from a shitty hospital where a wee baby is lying with no legs because some fucker (on whatever side) has blown them to bits, I feel terrible and totally helpless. No amount of wankers wearing tutus juggling their egotistical way through Hyde Park is going to change that though.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 4:15 PM on September 30, 2007




Protesting SO doesn't work. If ever you were given that impression, it was coincidental.


Not all protests are created equally.

Civil disobedience works if it can achieve critical mass and interrupt implementation of policy.

"A march" won't do it. Neither will one hundred marches. But a march to occupy the Mall in DC for six months would indeed impact public policy.

Civil disobedience is the most effective form of protest. It worked in India against the British. It worked in South Africa. It has worked in France.

The nuclear freeze movements, especially in Europe were fairly effective in getting the Reagan administration to approach arms limitation talks. At the time they appeared dismissive. But it truly did worry them. So eventually they used the movement to head off Gorbachev from using it.

Protests against fur. Against sweatshop labor and child labor. Against animal cruelty sure as shit HAVE worked. Many of these industries have changed radically in the last twenty years.

For example. A small example. Last week at a dinner I sat twenty feet from Martha Stewart. She told an anecdote about a Spy magazine article the satirically implied she killed animals or something. it launched a series of misguided PETA protests. Now she has always sympathized with animals causes, but this really struck a nerve with her AND her stock holders... who came asking "so what about you and running over kittens in your Bentley?" Immediately she implemented a HUGE and sincere inter-corporate campaign with media "empire" to be as animal friendly as possible. She disposed of her furs. She reformed an entire internal corporate culture to be animal friendly. When asked if PETA had not raised this stink would she have gone to this effort? "No. Because I already THOUGHT I had done enough. It took them to show I hadn't"

The earmarks of all the successful forms of protest/civil disobedience in history have been that the message was singular, clear, unwaivering and it appears supported by the mainstream (and also the the policy holders COULD be swayed by democratic process or international pressure).


And where the protest doest immediately work it provides a wedge for other democratic processes.

It doesn't work over night. But certainly does work.

Yes the peace pot luck didn't work. No shit. But a two or three day occupation of yout federal building? Well. It won'r do much over night. But enough "normal" people demonstrate that kind of committment and it DOES work.

It's sad that so many of you are so easily swayed by cynicism and apathy. You do indeed get the government you deserve.
posted by tkchrist at 4:36 PM on September 30, 2007 [10 favorites]


Want to know what people in suits protesting looks like? Try here.

That was in March, they were protesting again yesterday. I can't believe no-ones mentioned it in this thread yet, given the timing.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:37 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think the "Serious Change" methodology is awesome, but I'd also like to point out that most demonstrations are not wild, drug-riddled, off-message raves. It should be no shock that what gets cycled through the media has largely been selected for sensationalism. Most of the crowd, most of the time, is ordinary folk.

I'm never sure what people mean when they say "protests work" or "protests don't work." What do you think they're supposed to do, exactly? Seasoned organizers understand that street demonstrations only bring attention to a particular topic from a particular point of view. Every time you get someone to think, consider, question, that's a victory.
posted by zennie at 4:56 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Even Dr. Martin Luther King said that the only reason whites listened to him was because of the shadow of a black man with a molotov cocktail standing behind him. Protests don't work because they're civil, or polite; they work because of fear that they might stop being civil and polite. A good protest should always hint that this is the last stop before lunacy.

Hey, Matt, why don't you and all your friends go to a protest dressed in uniform? You could wear nice brown ones, and I hear truncheons make for a very clear path before you.

For the many reasons being enumerated here - from stilt walkers to Free Mumia banners - that image (and I'd argue to some extent that feeling) of true solidarity is absent from contemporary antiwar protests.

Assemble one hundred thousand people wearing white shirts and khakis and the logistical support required to place them on the Mall for a month, and you can write any law you want.

What effect the protests of the sixties had was generated more or less by their novelty and totality. 1968 in particular was scary if all you wanted was the establishment life. King's assassination and the ensuing riots, university administration takeovers the world over, the very real possibility of the fall the government of at least one major Western European nation. All brought into your Republican living room by that TV you almost certainly had by now. The threat was a real one. While there was no unity of purpose, the nonconformance and noncompliance itself was a threat.

Fast-forward forty years and nonconformance is a commodity. You can buy it at the mall, and are indeed encouraged to do so. There is no threat from the left now. If you want results from protest, the threat must be made real again. Show that you, as a group, can command a unity of purpose and of action from your members and you will be taken seriously.

Actually, there's the problem. I take that back. Nine Eleven Changed Everything, remember, so assemble one hundred thousand people wearing white shirts and khakis and the logistical support required to place them on the Mall for a month, and I'll show you a prison camp in exurban Maryland built by DHS of surplus FEMA trailers.
posted by Vetinari at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2007 [7 favorites]


In the US it is now a rite of passage to go on a protest. You go to New York or Boston (check the box), you spend your abroad semester 'helping the natives' build an unwanted outhouse (check the box), you buy an ironic t-shirt from Urban Outfitters so you look like a mid 80s truckdriver from Arkansas (check the box). You are now a rounded person who will be able to bore people in years to come with your xerox tales of rebellion. The result of all of this is that protesting becomes commodified where people are more bothered about what they wear than why they are going and what they want to achieve.

I think the situation in Iraq is truly horrible and when I see some news report from a shitty hospital where a wee baby is lying with no legs because some fucker (on whatever side) has blown them to bits, I feel terrible and totally helpless. No amount of wankers wearing tutus juggling their egotistical way through Hyde Park is going to change that though.
posted by psmith at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


(with thanks to ClanvidHorse)
posted by psmith at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2007


Also, let's not forget the problem of mixed messages. I've never seen a modern protest from the left that didn't have some jackass with a "FREE MUMIA" or "LEGALIZE IT" sign. If it's an anti-war protest, keep it on the war.

So true. The anti-war movement has a hard time staying on message, and instead prefers to throw everything but the kitchen sink into their rallies...At every anti-war rally there are placards that also exhort the powers that be to end the genocide in Darfur, wipe Israel off the map, stop harassing poor old Hugo Chavez, use natural deodorant, and eat tempe rather than beef, and use hemp napkins to wipe your mouth afterwards. All these messages compete with a more important message: end the war and bring the troops home.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:31 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I attended and helped organize some of the largest war protests in the in the country during the lead up to the War with Iraq. I stopped, in part, because I couldn't stand working with the Bolsheviks over at ANSWER Coalition. But mainly I stopped because I realized that my work wasn't affecting change. The largest protest in the history of the world took place in London before the start of Iraq War. It changed nothing. I was no political novice back then. I understood that change is incremental, but I couldn't help but realize that my actions were having no effect on policy, whatsoever. So I stopped.

I didn't stop being an activist.
And I didn't stop protesting.

Protests CAN make a difference. It just depends on how you protest. I'm amazed that 90 or so comments into this, no one has mentioned any of the Immigrant's Rights Rallies. I had the distinct pleasure of helping to organize the one in Washington D.C. (2006) that attracted over 500,000 peaceful demonstrators. There were few, if any, puppets. and thankfully ANSWER played only a marginal role.

Going along with the recommendation of a theme, was that American flags were EVERYWHERE! The young men and women wore white t-shirts and we all made sure that everyone had a flag. Sure, some also had flags of their own nation, but that's a good thing. We, the organizers, heard people's anger about demonstrators displaying only their homeland's flag at the previous protest in L.A. We saw that orange-headed Lou Dobbs was throwing a tantrum about something silly. That tantrum blocked any discussion on the issues, so we responded. Did we think the ranting and raving over El Salvadoran & Mexican flags was silly? Sure. But we knew that no one wouldn't hear our message unless we overcame that block and gave them their silly visual representation of our commitment to the good ol'U.S. of A. And everyone was ok with that.

That day, Americans and especially Congress saw half a million men women and children marching peacefully for their chase to live the American dream. Workers took the day off to show their impact on the economy. Businesses closed in solidarity with their immigrant brothers and sisters and because they had no labor. Whole families came. It was a beautiful thing to see.

On the cover of every major paper in the country the next day, there were pictures of half-a-million brown people on the National Mall wrapped in American flags peacefully demanding their rights. And Congress listened. Comprehensive immigration reform finally became a real policy goal. Democrats realized the power of the Latino vote and the GOP marginalized themselves for a generation by advocating unattainable nativist policies.

Those protests made a difference. Too the point of the poster, we didn't wear suits. Have you tried marching in summer for miles while chanting and waving signs in a suit? It's a recipe for exhaustion. Of course, we didn't wear stilts either. I guess my point is that this doesn't have to be a dichotomy. There's a happy medium between wearing a suit and not wearing clothes at all.

Also, for the record, that Reddit protest got over 800 votes. Probably thousands if you count the repeat postings. Nothing ever happened. Not one city. Not one person. Nothing...
posted by willie11 at 5:35 PM on September 30, 2007 [13 favorites]


that Reddit protest got over 800 votes. Probably thousands if you count the repeat postings. Nothing ever happened.

"Typing in ALL CAPS is not a viable form of protest"
-T-shirt I never got around to making
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:40 PM on September 30, 2007


So the strategy is further sanitization? Ensure even less visiblity for things which make average Americans uncomfortable? This is going to help?

Protests, in Sunday best or not, rarely do a damn thing. They're called demonstrations, but rarely anymore are they ever demonstrating anything other than a desire to assuage guilt or get on TV. That's because there's so little to demonstrate these days - viable movements, real communities, strong visions, a body of political work.

Every once in a long while, though, they do make a difference. I honestly think history will show the Seattle protests against the WTO in 1999 to have been a watershed moment in the West.

Amidst the coverage of those days - which were hardly focused on one single issue, as some here are suggesting is the solution - a lot of people woke the hell up in a serious way and started paying attention. While many of them probably became the clowns being decried here, a sizeable minority have gone on to do real, meaningful work in their communities. Chances are you know at least one, or know someone who does, and chances are they've changed your life for the better, even if in a small way.

The reason those protests happened, and the reason there were so many otherwise neutral or undecided people receptive to the message, was years of work behind the scenes, both inside and outside of official channels, on everything from global trade policy to concrete community issues.

That's what's needed now. When that work comes to a head, the fashion sense of those protesting won't matter. Until we start priveleging that work again, it's protests that don't matter. This discussion is cute, but it's the wrong one.
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:45 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


They threaten continued drug use and promiscuity by worthless hippie scum.

Not quite as scary.


Not to go by what the conservatives fear most, I reckon.
posted by davejay at 5:56 PM on September 30, 2007


On the cover of every major paper in the country the next day, there were pictures of half-a-million brown people on the National Mall wrapped in American flags peacefully demanding their rights. And Congress listened.

but nothing got DONE

and that's the problem - name the issue or the controversy and odds are you'll find out that congress hasn't done a damn thing

i was impressed with the immigration demonstrations

i am utterly underwhelmed with congress' response to that or anything else
posted by pyramid termite at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think significant progress was made. Comprehensive Immigration Reform was defeated only by a razor thin margin and i think it would have passed has it not been a hot-button political issue for the right-wing. Our protests brought the subject to the forefront of American political discourse, showed that immigrants had power and numbers and moved our Congress to come as close as they ever have to passing real immigration reform legislation.

Yes, the McCain-Kennedy bill failed. But its next incarnation will pass.

The life of legislation as seen by me: Legislation fails, fails some more, goes back to committee, fails again, finds some new sponsors, gets promoted by some expensive lobbyists, and then fails again! Eventually, it passes after riders giving the appropriation committee's son-in-law a fat federal contract for garbage collection and naming a few bridges after Congressmen are included.

Our demonstrations shifted public opinion and scared the shit out of Congress. They now recognize the significance of the immigrant community in this country and that's bigger than passing any legislation. As I said earlier, comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation will pass eventually, I guarantee it. And when it does, it will be due in large part to the efforts of its advocates and the millions of immigrants who took to the streets and protested.
posted by willie11 at 6:38 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


You people who smugly sit back and call the non-protestors traitors and lazy for not marching--what are you doing besides marching? Running for city council? Perhaps organizing a neighborhood watchgroup? Maybe running a tutoring program for local poor urban kids? No, those things aren't necessary, because you have your boombox playing the third-string punk rock bands with the two-chord anti-Bush songs and you are out marching and making a REAL difference.

QFMFT.
posted by The Straightener at 6:57 PM on September 30, 2007


Thank you willie11 for your comments and for the work you've been doing.

As for the protest of lawyers in Pakistan, and the "Want to know what people in suits protesting looks like? Try here" comment, I bet that protest will effect change.

The fact that lawyers turned out to protest Musharraf re-electing himself would most definitely mean something in a very conservative country like Pakistan. The lawyers followed their protest with a boycott too.

In NYC I've always got a kick out of the use of the pro-union rat used to demonstrate bad employment issues.
posted by nickyskye at 7:13 PM on September 30, 2007


Ugh. Sure the stilt brigade can be annoying. But what about all the issues-hangers-on? Last anti-war rally I was at, there were the wage-freeze people, the transit fare hike people, and a fair number of people protesting lord knows what but certainly nothing to do with the war.

This seems to me profoundly disprespectful. I mean, at least the clowns (the ones in makeup I mean) are out there for the same cause; they just differ in their ideas about tactics. These other people think it's all just an opportunity to air MY GRIEVANCES and to hell with anyone else.

On preview, I see some others have made this complaint. I'm sorry. I needed to get that out of my system.
posted by dreamsign at 7:16 PM on September 30, 2007


(And using the Civil Rights as an example of a successful movement? Yes because modern American blacks have come so far, all the way from the gutters of de jure segregation to the gutters of de facto segregation.)

I would give an intelligent, reasoned, on-topic response to this, but thanks to the Internet Jim Crow laws, everytime I try to respond, they bring out the firehoses and the dogs.
posted by billyfleetwood at 7:18 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


jane fonda stopped the vietnam war, and pete townsend had nothing but respect for abbie hoffman.
posted by quonsar at 7:20 PM on September 30, 2007


What we can learn from the immigration protests is that if you want to get anything done in this country get fat middle aged white guys out there. When the fat old middle aged guys got their ire up and protested in smaller numbers against Kennedy-McCain it was all over. A million moms marched in 2000 for gun control but the middle aged white guys in NRA caps made the difference for West Virginia and a few other states that should have voted for Gore.
posted by humanfont at 7:21 PM on September 30, 2007


I was actually nodding along for a while there with the people who say 'protesting does nothing' (other than forge solidarity), but then I remembered that the country where I live (Korea) was completely transformed by protest (violent, shattering, and some of the early protesters are still in prison while others are running the government) during this generation.

So, yeah. Not always, or everywhere. Your nation's mileage may vary.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:27 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


They now recognize the significance of the immigrant community in this country and that's bigger than passing any legislation.

well, i'm just getting pretty impatient with the way things are not done in this country

it's not just congress - check out what my elected clowns are doing tonight

tick tick tick tick tick ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:28 PM on September 30, 2007


get fat middle aged white guys out there

It's got nothing to do with them being fat middle aged white guys and everything to do with them having money and having their hands on the levers of commerce. But yes, you're right. If you want something done, you have to threaten to cost people money.

If you want to stop the war, take the profit out of it.
posted by empath at 7:33 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


and a fair number of people protesting lord knows what but certainly nothing to do with the war.

So war occurs in a vacuum? Those taking an interest in war can somehow avoid issues of, say, class, race, poverty, consumption, ecology, psychology, etc.?

Aren't there, perhaps, many linked causes and effects which have put us in our current situation?
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:50 PM on September 30, 2007


Aren't there, perhaps, many linked causes and effects which have put us in our current situation?

So? Seriously, so what? Gosh, life is complex -- hey, thanks for the update! Never woulda figured that one out.

When you are confronted by an opponent who has focus, flailing around like a grad student on PCP is not useful. Logorrhea is not an effective combat strategy.

But hey, since we're being so darn inclusive -- can you make a placard for me at the next protest? I'm feeling really irked about precambrian sea life, and I think we need to radicalize some onlookers. After all, we're all connected, man. One love, dude.
posted by aramaic at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2007


Wearing a red hat or shirt might be a good idea right now. Free Burma!


posted by 0of1 at 8:02 PM on September 30, 2007


As RedEmma said, all it did was fill the marchers with an illusory sense of their power and the warmth of solidarity. It did nothing to stop the march to war which rumbled on, barely pausing. The most lasting effect of the marches has been a collapse of faith in political processes, despair and apathy.

Because marching in-and-of-itself is not enough. Marching can be ignore if that's all there is. The point of marching is to say, "listen to us. There are a lot of us. And we feel so strongly we'll burn shit down if don't listen."

To put it another way, people who think marching is an effective way to end a war have forgotten the lessons of Martin Luther King and Gandhi; people willdeal with a thoughtful, eloquent man... if the alternative is to deal with a man with a gun in one hand and a molotov cocktail in the other.

Marching is the carrot. It needs to be backed by a stick. Where is the goddamn stick?
posted by Justinian at 8:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


This thread depresses the hell out of me.

I bite my thumb at all you hippie haters. I'm an erstwhile hippie and proud of it and damn proud of being an unapologetic liberal too.

I've been in a few anti-Iraq protests and I'm glad I have. If I have regrets, it's that I haven't been in more. In January, I went to DC alone and had a chance to talk to many marchers. I didn't see any drug takers (drat) or naked people. I didn't run into any smelly people. Oh wait - there were a few homeless Viet Nam Vets who were kinda scruffy and some pretty rag tag vets in wheelchairs. Maybe they smelled, I dunno.

I had the humbling privilege of marching beside gold star Moms, Dads, and siblings and Vets from many wars, including this one. Most of the crowd were plain vanilla middle class adults - many codgers in their 60s to 80s - and lots of college kids. All who came to DC from all corners of the country on their own dime to make their voices heard. Most of the tens of thousands of people were just ordinary folks like me. Were there some puppets, signs, and some "raging grannies?" Sure - what of it? Was there a fringe contingent of people representing issues I don't support? Yes some. But the biggest weirdos and wackos I saw were the freeper thugs who lined the routes to harass marchers.

Did it do any good beyond allowing me to sleep a bit better at night? Maybe not. But it was the most patriotic I've felt in years. It made me recapture a sense of pride in some of my fellow Americans. It made me feel less despondent and more hopeful. It reminded me there are many, many good people who do not approve of the shit that is going down, and who are willing to risk tear gas, billy clubs and tasers to let that be known.

And as for this business about people just wanting to show off - bullshit. Attention? The kind I don't need. I assure you, I'm getting a little too old to really want to be arrested, put on a no-fly list, or terminated by one of my consulting clients who sees me on the evening news.

Ineffectual? Perhaps. A silent scream? No doubt. But at least I'm screaming. At least I'm raising my voice and saying "no, not in my name you don't." I've also done a fair amount of "normal" activities like campaigning, donating as much money as I could to "good" candidates, sending letters, care packs, and money to vets, writing letters to reporters, editors and congress people - and most of those things have had all the effectiveness of pissing in the wind, too. I may not be able to move the needle as much as a fraction of a millimeter, but it won't be for lack of trying.

So fine, do it in a suit or do it in the buff. Do it with your wallet or do it with your feet. Do it on your job or do it in the streets. Do it seriously or do it satirically. Do it on stilts, do it in wigs, or do it any way you think will be effective. Just be sure you do something.

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world's one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are ox-like, limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
-- Vachel Lindsay

posted by madamjujujive at 8:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [11 favorites]


Do it on stilts, do it in wigs, or do it any way you think will be effective.

Yes, but do you really think the naked guy on stilts thinks he's being effective?

Do you think he even thinks?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:15 PM on September 30, 2007


What's confusing me here is the number of people talking about how the protests appear on TV and in the media. Here's how the protests appear on TV and in the media here in the US:

"Despite a few protesters, the Republican convention..."

The massive protests against the Iraq war were only massive OFF of TV. The numbers were downplayed in the media when they were mentioned at all. The American public, in general, DON'T see protesters -- on stilts or otherwise -- because the media doesn't care about them. We all know about them because, for the most part, we're part of a subculture that gets its news elsewhere. Joe and Judy American hear them mentioned in passing, if at all.

Dress for the protest however you want, just hope that Lindsey Lohan doesn't take away your coverage by driving drunk or something.
posted by Legomancer at 8:28 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Um, what naked guy on stilts ? The sockpupet one in your imagination ? Of course, he doesn't think--how could he ? Your hand is up his ass. How can an imaginary sockpuppet naked guy think with your hand up his ass ?
posted by y2karl at 8:33 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


A few comments:
- TV news, today, is the primary vehicle for public discourse
- Street marches are pretty much ignored by TV news
- Effective TV news campaigns require sustained, redundant messages
- Maintaining that TV message requires strategic, operational and tactical skill -- message discipline
- The Internet is an asset. We should not denigrate its usefulness for developing, honing and disseminating messages

The anti-war movement has the advantage of potential allies which number into a sizable majority of the population.
However, the pro-war faction is vastly better organized.

The current fractious state of the anti-war movement is every war proponent's dream of an opposition. While those who dissent-as-a-lifestyle are not my cup of tea, they are allies. But we want allies in the mainstream too. How can these different people be motivated to act (in a coordinated way) on a variety of fronts?

How can we get beyond herding cats and organize into a viable strategy for ending this Iraq occupation?
posted by McLir at 9:02 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think I've mentioned this before, but I was in DC for the inauguration in 2004. I didn't go to any special protest zone or anything. And all I could see, for the entire route of the motorcade were people there to do nothing but boo the president when he drove by.

I'm not talking hundreds, I'm talking thousands and thousands of people, it dwarfed the number of supporters in attendance.

And nothing happened. No news about it, anything. Unless you disrupt things, you don't exist.
posted by empath at 9:11 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's so awesome that so many people have figured out simple ways to stop the war, to ensure the effectiveness of protests, to resolve internecine disputes among dissenters. So fucking awesome. But there's something I can't figure out: since a bunch of MetaFilter commenters know exactly what to do to fix the world, why isn't the world, y'know, fixed yet? They keep telling me it's so easy...
posted by waxbanks at 9:22 PM on September 30, 2007


How can an imaginary sockpuppet naked guy think with your hand up his ass?

One of the burning questions of our time, and one that I, for one, hope we can answer in this thread!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:22 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's all well and fine, madamjujujive, but it evades the central point, which is that all of that marching hasn't done shit. Yes, you're getting the feeling that at least you're doing something, but the same can be said of the leech doctors or of the faith healers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 PM on September 30, 2007


Eh, that's bullshit. Any attempt to adopt conservative tropes will do nothing but strengthen the status quo. Any submission to the ruling class, no matter how trivial, invalidates the entire movement and brings the conflict back into the tit-for-tat domain of politics. Only those revolutionary movements that have adopted extra-political principles and aimed at the complete elimination of the ruling class have ever achieved real, lasting change.

For example, the IRA, which blew up hundreds, ran down the Northern Ireland economy, and finally had to capitulate when post-9/11 monetary transfers combined with their followers' distaste for the Troubles in the face of a booming Irish economy to the south.

Or the FARC. They've been very successful in pushing whatever their agenda is. Something Marxist, I think. Involving coke. And murders.

(And using the Civil Rights as an example of a successful movement? Yes because modern American blacks have come so far, all the way from the gutters of de jure segregation to the gutters of de facto segregation.)

Thousands descended on Jena last week to protest a miscarriage of justice, and pressure is being put on local/state/national politicians to right the wrong.

60 years ago, the incident never would have happened, because the schools were segregated. And if it had, the Jena Six would have been "taken care of" by the sheriff or Klan because "they had it coming to them."

Do we still have de facto segregation, racial economic and social disparity, and a messed up culture? Yes. But it's a hell of a lot better than it was in the time of Emmitt Till. And if you disagree, put down the Chomsky already and pick up Eyes On The Prize.
posted by dw at 10:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Maybe the one takeaway point in this thread is "Know your audience." Iraq, after all, was a sales job. Ending the war is just as much of a sales job.

In essence, the anti-war movement is not being effectively marketed. And in a consumer culture like this one, marketing is everything.

Unfortunately, with a movement that has such deep anti-consumerist roots, I don't see anyone calling Saatchi + Saatchi any time soon.
posted by dw at 10:19 PM on September 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


The massive protests against the Iraq war were only massive OFF of TV.

Yeah, that's what kills me. If protests don't accomplish anything these days it's at least in part because the media are willing accomplices to the government minimizing them.

I was at the pre-invasion marches in NY and I saw a bunch of news coppers fly overhead. Afterward, the numbers coming out of the media seemed really, really low to me, and I thought "well, you should be able to tell from an overhead picture".

To this day, I've never seen one.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:18 PM on September 30, 2007


Wearing a red hat or shirt might be a good idea right now. Free Burma!

This sounds great, but isn't this the very example of "guys on stilts wearing mime makeup and Cat-in-the-Hat striped top-hats" at an antiwar rally? These days, there are so many things to protest that protest has become meaningless. The people out there on stilts supporting Burma or whatever can't be taken seriously, because all they ever do is protest about one thing or another.

I'm not sure what the answer is, because, obviously, it is important to send a message to our governments that what is happening in Burma right now (or China, or North Korea, or Fiji, or Iran, or Venezuela, or Cuba, or Darfur, or DRC, or Zimbabwe, or Iraq, or Uzbekistan, or Belarus, or Moldova, or Western Sahara, or Ohio, or NOLA, etc.) must be stopped.

It's just that every message competes with every other message these days...
posted by KokuRyu at 11:20 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Protesters urge Olympic boycott over Chinese support for Burma
posted by homunculus at 11:20 PM on September 30, 2007


Iraq, after all, was a sales job. Ending the war is just as much of a sales job.

This is a great point. The Left or whatever has to start thinking more strategically, and start taking tips from PR. And stop making mistakes like MoveOn.org. The Right (or whatever bastards started the Iraq War) rarely makes a mistake, and when they do they recover quite nicely.

Know your audience.
Choose a message your audience will understand.
Take politics out of the equation and instead rely on core values.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 PM on September 30, 2007


paul_smatatoes, I think the quip "You cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's tools" has to do with the fact that the master owns the tools. He's not going to let you borrow them to tear down a wall or two.

Effective protests don't ask those in power to make changes. They are intended to inform those in power that change is already taking place. Gandhi's protests showed that the people of India were becoming independent; the Brits then knew that if they wanted to stop that trend they'd have to fight a war.



Since the kids (get off my lawn!) do need to burn off some steam, a smart protest leader should try to channel that by sending them on the crazy missions. Back in the day they asked them to drive to states where they weren't wanted to register voters. I believe they wore suits.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:55 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the recent protests at the APEC conference in Sydney were pretty pathetic.

The group organising the protest (inbetween having their little "passive resistance / nonviolent protest workshops) were negotiating with the police about the route of the march!

Please officer, we want to walk here, and here, can we, please? No? Oh bother, how about we walk here instead, please?

Protip for the would-be revolutionaries; it's not civil disobediance if you ask permission first.

And another tip for budding protestors; get the unions onside. Your protest will be much more fearsome with wharfies, builders and (best of all) nurses marching alongside you. The best protest marches I've been to have been with unionists.
posted by Jimbob at 12:05 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


What we can learn from the immigration protests is that if you want to get anything done in this country get fat middle aged white guys out there. ... A million moms marched in 2000 for gun control but the middle aged white guys in NRA caps made the difference for West Virginia and a few other states that should have voted for Gore.

You can call them whatever you want if it makes you feel better, but the politicians call them voters. The NRA is powerful because it has legions of people who will go to the polls when they get a bulletin telling them that there's an issue at stake, people who otherwise just stay home and keep to themselves. That "invisible reservoir" effect scares the shit out of politicians.

If the groups on the left really wanted to make change, they could begin by taking a hard look at some of the groups that actually have power. The NRA probably could throw a march, if they wanted to (and I think they have at various times). But they realize it probably wouldn't make for good PR and just generally is counterproductive versus encouraging people to write checks, vote, constantly call/email/fax/write their representatives, and spend outrageous amounts of money lobbying. I don't think that the NRA, or for that matter some of the anti-abortion groups, have any philosophical preference for one mode of political action versus another; they are entirely motivated by what's effective on their issues. And they don't do street protests, and seem to consistently be more effective than those that do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:10 AM on October 1, 2007


What you people fail to realise is that your best dressed protest is merely another form of attention seeking spectacle.

The novelty of ten thousand silent, suited protestors is simply the aesthetic antipode to the stilt-walking clown whose impotence you berate. The ability to draw television cameras is what interests you, make no mistake: real political dialogue, to which the TV soundbite is radically immune, is never fomented by a mere "costume".

In that respect, you people are all mindless zombies, clawing at the television - the modern circus maximus - desperate for new outrages to distract yourselves from the meaninglessness of your politics.

I'd call you all Nazis, but you’re actually much worse than that - at least the National Socialists had enough passion to commit genocide, you idiots would still be arguing about whether the Star of David, sown onto the jackets of your innocent victims, should be yellow or "burnt umber".

Of course - full disclosure - I only say all that because, as a Member of the Anti-Soil Alliance, I fundamentally support the right of all citizens to bear stilts. Do you people actually KNOW how many million microbes are in an average teaspoon of dirt? This Government needs to respond to the problem POST HASTE by immediately giving all Americans a sturdy pair of tall leg-extenders.

And I, for one, won't stop marching on the Capital until President Bush agrees to raise all public buildings off the ground by 4 feet 9 inches. You guys keep arguing about your dress code - my wooden-legged comrades and I are taking DIRECT ACTION.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:05 AM on October 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


Do you know how many million microbes are on your skin?

...

More than that. Find some lye and steel wool, and you may yet get them off.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 3:44 AM on October 1, 2007


It's not so much the Cat In The Hat and stilt-walkers who bug me. Hell, I kind of like them. It's the ANSWER/hardcore Marxist/militant vegan/Free Mumia types who show up and try and shoehorn every other cause in, rather than focusing. It sends the wrong message: that everyone against the war is some kind of radical nut, which I can assure you is not the case.

And as others have said, the lack of a draft affects the situation, too. During the Vietnam Era, every young man had to deal (one way or another) with the question of how he would handle being drafted, which made concern about the war much more widespread.
posted by jonmc at 4:30 AM on October 1, 2007


The reasoning was twofold. First, it was part of the overall "we must represent ourselves with dignity" meme -- that is, African Americans must always show that they are not only willing to self-improve, they are self-improving. Second, it was to make the protests look formal and serious, because these were formal and serious issues. In a sense, it was to make them look like good churchgoing people (which they were anyway).

They dressed in a manner befitting the virtues they were trying to impart. If you want people to treat you like upstanding citizens instead of second-class citizens, you dress in a suit, you act rationally instead of emotionally... you're presenting a counterexample, essentially, en masse.

A war protest isn't the same thing. In a war protest the problem isn't that your antagonists think you second-class citizens... in fact they likely think the opposite: that you're a spoiled silver-spooner with so much money and security that you can afford to take off a few days of officework so you can work on your tan outdoors while holding hands and singing songs with your fellow got-it-mades.

The protesters who do best at anti-war protests are veterans. Because when you see a line of combat-wounded walking by, you let them pass and shut the fuck up while they're doing it.

You have to exceed the expectations of your adversaries, but first you have to understand what are those expectations?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:51 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


How can an imaginary sockpuppet naked guy think with your hand up his ass?

More importantly, how do you get your hand up his ass when he's standing up there on those stilts? Arm stilts, perhaps?

I think the last demonstration I went on was probably for the Miners Strike. Not because I don't think there aren't any more causes worth protesting, but because I'm allergic to Trotskyites. Give me a good old Tankie, any day of the year.

That's all well and fine, madamjujujive, but it evades the central point, which is that all of that marching hasn't done shit.

Regarding the war, yes. However, people have offered up examples of demonstrations that had the opposite effect. Civil rights marches in the South. ACT-UP's stuff.

Demonstrations don't normally immediately change the government's mind. Nobody expects them to, that's not really their point. The point, as much as anything, is to get the issue into the media, and let the world know that there isn't just one side of an issue, and that there are quite a lot of people who feel strongly about the other side as well. If ACT-UP showed us anything, it taught us that it doesn't need a Million Man March to produce change, it just needs a handful of committed activists, a righteous issue and an ability to use the media with a bit of creativity and imagination.

180 degree policy changes usually take a little longer, but seizing the popular imagination has always been the fastest way to make them happen. Demonstrations could achieve this in the 1960's -- today, I have much less faith in them as a medium for activism, though they obviously still have a part to play, and see groups like Adbusters as having a much bigger role than they did in the past -- even if that is using the Man's tools to burn down the Man's house.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:00 AM on October 1, 2007


Do you know how many million microbes are on your skin?

You're suggesting that my skin should be raised from contact with my insides via some kind of intricate lattice or microscopic scaffolding? Hmm - good idea! This is just the kind of radical thinking that my soil-detesting pressure group appreciates - tell me, Comrade: how tall are your stilts?
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:43 AM on October 1, 2007


KokuRyu: The Right (or whatever bastards started the Iraq War) rarely makes a mistake, and when they do they recover quite nicely.

Ummm, No.

Kadin2048: The NRA is powerful because it has legions of people who will go to the polls when they get a bulletin telling them that there's an issue at stake, people who otherwise just stay home and keep to themselves.

Technically, the NRA is one of the smaller interest groups, in terms of membership. They claim less than 3 million if i am correct. That's fewer than MoveOn.org's 3.4 million and WAY less than the AARP's every old person in the country.

The NRAs power lies not in their numbers, but in their influence. They hire the best lobbyists in D.C. to guarantee that their agenda is promoted and their voice is heard. So does AARP, the Israel lobby, ConAgra, Verizon, Bank of America... do you get my point?

Now I'm not saying that protests are worthless and lobbying is the only way to affect change. I'm just saying that MetaFilter is expecting something to come out of protesting that is not realistic. Protesting is good for a lot of things, primarily making one's voice heard. Protesting is not good for moving legislation out of committee or securing appropriate funding/defunding of initiatives, as many seem to think it is capable of. That's what lobbying is for. And guess what? We're at that too!

I hear a lot of bitching and moaning about how the anti-war left is spending all their time making puppets and not doing any the real work to end the war. But your complaints are born out of ignorance. We're working all angles of this issue, with and without stilts.

Here's an article from the New York Times on my friend Tom. He is the head of an anti-war lobbying group doing exactly the kind of K-Street policy manuvering that you've all wished to see... sans stilts over at Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

We're out there people. We're doing this. Want to help?
posted by willie11 at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


tell me, Comrade: how tall are your stilts?

Those stilts... they aren't made of wood, are they? Or iron? Because, you know, those microbes, they like wood and iron.
posted by dw at 8:06 AM on October 1, 2007


My favorite protest memory was grabbing a canister of tear gas, running over to a big office building and tossing it inside...bring the war home and whatnot...

I used to go to protests dressed like other people, but i quit because ultimately activism made me depressed...so now i just try to make my little corner of the world nice for me and mine...

That and i type in ALL CAPS ON TEH INTERNETS.
posted by schyler523 at 8:18 AM on October 1, 2007


lumpenprole: Yeah, that's what kills me. If protests don't accomplish anything these days it's at least in part because the media are willing accomplices to the government minimizing them.

I repeated that, because it's a clue.

As for all that craziness in the 60's, and why it worked:
It wasn't just demonstrations. It wasn't just civil disobedience. It was a direct threat on the very fabric of the society. You want to bitch and moan about "dirty hippies"? That's why you're not effective. You are too vested in the status quo yourself. Become a dirty hippy, get all your friends to become dirty hippies. Say "Mom, Dad, all your hopes for your offspring will be totally shattered, because you vote Republican."

Disrupt your university, disrupt the very lectures. Disrupt church. Disrupt town meetings. Disrupt Walmart. Disrupt the media whores! See a news team out for a story? Disrupt them! Get in their way! Tell your boss to stuff it at the worst possible moment, and walk out.

But! But! But! How can we buy a new computer to play that great new awesome game, if we stink and live in a teepee in the park? (And you know the cops will arrest us eventually for doing that). And if I loose my second job from taking time off to protest, I'll miss car payments!

Understand, I'm not really being all that critical here. Who the hell wants to be poor?! I've done poor, it's rough. 'Poor' isn't what it used to be. However, I fear, having money to buy all the things that are important to you (like, housing, transportation, food, clothing, health care, and, if you're lucky, a new computer) costs the ability to effect change.

You've got to be rigid, too. Mess with anyone who doesn't go along! You know, those uptight assholes that attend the Young Republican meetings? They must be made the outsiders. Republican professors? Oh well, guess you will have to live without that class. Fuck 'em.

It's really back to "Fold, spindle, and mutilate". Disrupt the mainstream in any way you possibly can. Marching? Okay, that's fine. But it's the attitude and action that backs the march that makes the difference.

As is so often pointed out, the stakes aren't high enough, yet. It's the lack of a draft that protects the bastards. Staying employed and having fun beats the hell out of eating beans in a cold tent, especially when your life isn't at stake. And you know, these days, without university, you can mostly forget making a decent living anymore. (do you suppose they planed it that way?).

Seriously, you have to hit 'them' where it hurts. In their wallet, in their hopes. Demonstrate economic power. Pick something easy, like gasoline. What if every anti-war person jumped on the bandwagon, and just stopped buying from a specific brand for a month? It's easy to go elsewhere. Probably one brand deserves such treatment more than others.
posted by Goofyy at 8:19 AM on October 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


I really like RedEmma's comment above.

The only reason protesting ever worked was it implied that the people were on the verge of rebellion. Labor protests worked in the 20's because very often people ended up dead, sop they had to be taken seriously. But the protests in the 60's didn't work, people seem to be forgetting that. The war kept going through three assassinations and all kinds of civil action. At that war wasn't even about a resource that's fundamental to the American economy.

Protesting this war is pointless. Right or wrong, the people who launched it think that fighting it is vital. They don't care about the bodies, they don't care about Iraqis. They don't care about anything except the very narrow interests that led them here.

How do you protest US dependence on foreign oil, or the foreign purchase of US government debt that subsidizes our deficit spending? How do you protest the system that most Americans need to survive?

I don't have any answers, sadly.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:58 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Because, you know, those microbes, they like wood and iron

You idiot! You're actually suggesting that we insert a protective layers of stilts between ourselves and the stilts? That's just nonsense on stilts!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:30 AM on October 1, 2007


Lessons from the Burmese uprising: The military crackdown in Burma is a reminder that street demonstrations do not necessarily lead to success for popular uprisings.
posted by homunculus at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2007


Goofyy, I can't favorite that hard enough. Unfortunately, the only thing people have less of than patience or ambition is imagination, the ability to disentangle themselves from the ideas and identities that society has allowed them to get cozy in. You can always burn it and build another. People do it all the time, often against their will.

Oh, I don't want to stink! I don't want to be poor! I don't want to die! I don't want people to think I'm ridiculous!

Okay then,you've made your choice, don't act like you never had one.
posted by hermitosis at 9:56 AM on October 1, 2007


Oh, I don't want to stink! I don't want to be poor! I don't want to die! I don't want people to think I'm ridiculous!

Some of us do stink! Some of us are poor! We're all going to die!
posted by jonmc at 10:07 AM on October 1, 2007


Lessons from the Burmese uprising: The military crackdown in Burma is a reminder that street demonstrations do not necessarily lead to success for popular uprisings.

I disagree. Look at Gandhi. Look at the Civil Rights movement. Change is incremental, it won't happen overnight. But perhaps in five years there will be some sort of civil society in in Burma...but maybe not Iraq.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 AM on October 1, 2007


protesting in suits is just another costume--same game, different dress-up.

Yes, but it plays to the audience you need: not the politicians, not directly, but the other half of the voters.

People who take wearing suits seriously will (at least subconsciously) listen more to people wearing suits. You want them to know that their kind of folk are with you and are unashamed of it. Hell, half the people (or at least the ones past college age) at protests do wear suits at work. Let the other side know you aren't a frothing exhibitionist half-wit, but that you're another sane, steady, rational, dependable banker or lawyer or steelworker or teacher or whatever it is you do during the day.

There is something you can do about the boys on stilts -- let them know that they aren't helping things. The better ones will listen. I know that's against the inclusiveness reflex of most people on the left, but sometimes you have to tell people when they're doing more harm than good.
posted by pracowity at 10:43 AM on October 1, 2007


Seriously, you have to hit 'them' where it hurts. In their wallet, in their hopes. Demonstrate economic power.

How do you demonstrate economic power against the war-machine corporations that are paid by government expenditures?

Maybe we should start by not paying the taxes that directly fund these endeavors. That'll learn 'em.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:45 AM on October 1, 2007


The US is always going on about its power. It's got the most powerful economy, the most powerful culture, the most powerful military. In fact, it's the most powerful country in the world ever, it's the only superpower, etc.

But, for all that power, you'd think from listening to its citizens that they were the most powerless people in the world - certainly nowadays, if not ever.

After all, from what I read here, their only opportunity for change is a vote every four years, but that's meaningless anyways, right? And there's no point in protesting for all the reasons this thread has posited.

Pathetic would be too nice a word for it.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:50 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I disagree. Look at Gandhi. Look at the Civil Rights movement. Change is incremental, it won't happen overnight. But perhaps in five years there will be some sort of civil society in in Burma.

Look at the Junta. They've apparently killed thousands, and thousands more are being sent to remote prisons. It's just like when they seized power 20 years ago. As long as China and India support them, I don't see why they wouldn't still be in power 20 years from now.
posted by homunculus at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2007


There is something you can do about the boys on stilts

give them roller skates?
posted by pyramid termite at 11:11 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Civil_Disobedient: A) How do you demonstrate economic power against the war-machine corporations that are paid by government expenditures?

B) Maybe we should start by not paying the taxes that directly fund these endeavors. That'll learn 'em.

A) You don't have to. You make it profitable for other interests to back your side.

B) "living in a tent" amounts to a cliche meaning, engage in a minimal amount of economic activity. This, of course, means paying less in taxes, but with the added benefit of being legal.
posted by Goofyy at 11:17 AM on October 1, 2007


Agreed, KokoRyu - do people expect that the moment their feet hit the pavement their oppressors will throw down their guns, stream out of their legislative buildings, run to them with damp eyes and open arms? Did the Civil Rights Act get passed in 1964 solely because of the protests of the past decade, or was it a chapter in a story that predates abolitionism, a story that continues today? Did women achieve the right to vote solely because of suffragette protests?

No, protesting was not the sole catalyst for either of those social advancements, but I don't think that invalidates the civil disobedience's role in incrementally changing our world for the better.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2007


Look at the Junta.

See, that's a bit misleading. What exactly is the purpose of any protest? Is it really to violently overthrow the government? To magically induce sudden, overnight change? It's not a very persuasive counter-example because the US isn't a junta. And either way it's far too early to determine the effects of the recent protests.

It was a direct threat on the very fabric of the society.

This is more like it. What protests do, first and foremost, is to tear apart the illusionary monolithic social entity that liberal democracies assume ('the people'). This is the 'threating' aspect of even the most peaceful protests, the simple establishment of an Us and a Them. And by filling the newly created space of disagreement with bodies the stakes are raised to the point of the non-political. If protests were the result of mere political disagreements which are inevitably resolved through compromise then they would have no real expressive power. But the best protests deny the possibility of political compromise by reducing nuanced debate to the rawest terms: there is Something They Have That We Need. This tear in the social fabric inevitably requires a serious examination of the matter at hand otherwise the hole threatens to expand and become permanent.

This reintroduction of human bodies and the potential violence into the political realm is shocking enough to most people. But the US media has become especially skillful at suppressing any sign of meaningful conflict or debate. It's not that they don't report the protests or even that they intentionally propagandize against the protesters, it's simply that they treat protests as politics by another means. Then they proceed to reduce politics to a kind of silly day-to-day sports game. The end result robs protests of any real power because they are seen as the same old, same old partisan back and forth. Nobody takes protesters seriously because the demonstration is assumed to be just another political tactic.

In the case of Iraq the media has effectively killed opposition by, again, reducing any opposition to partisan bickering. But this is only possible because nobody has seriously carried through on the 'Us vs Them' threat. There has been no serious acknowledgment of the people's anger and nobody has even pretended to inquire about why people are so angry. Most people don't even realize how angry people really are. The Republicans were voted out of both houses and but the pundits explained this away by talking about political savvy or lack thereof. There has certainly been absolutely no accountability. To this day the war's biggest supporters and enablers continue to bop around television as if somehow they weren't accessories to the crime of the century. There's been no serious denouncement of the neocons and there's certainly been no serious critique of the President outside of the bloggerland. The Democrats can't even muster up a symbolic censure vote. As the old Roman law goes, where there is no accuser there is no crime.

So the media is very careful to make sure that there the threat of the 'Us vs Them' is never carried through. Even the agreed upon names of the factions like 'anti-war' and 'pro-troops' are used to disguise what is a very real conflict of interests and desires. If the Iraq debate was half as bitter and clear cut as the abortion debate you'd see political fortunes being minted. But it's up to the anti-war crowd to figure out ways to let people know that there is a real conflict and what's going on is not politics as usual. It seems it's only very recently that groups like MoveOn have decided to specifically target those individuals that are making the war this possible. The Democratic elite has simply taken such serious critique "character assassination" completely "off the table." So all we get is a strange kind of pseudo-politics where faceless Republicans and faceless Democrats can't seem to agree on anything. There's no explanation about why or how this happens -- it just happens, kind of like the weather.

How do you demonstrate economic power against the war-machine corporations that are paid by government expenditures?

The symbolic act would probably be enough. If a great many people did something as little as canceling their cable/newspaper subscriptions and donated the money to MoveOn this would be an undeniable demonstration that it's no longer politics as usual. Ironically it's the French that have all but perfected this art of symbolic protests that establish clear boundaries between factions -- protests are always highly targeted against specific laws, policies or even persons and are engineered to be as visual and "in your face" as possible. Many protests don't take place in so-called 'public places' but will rather invade residential neighborhoods and shutdown traffic and highways. Though maybe I'm the only one who thinks it's pretty sad that the French have a more effective democracy than America's.
posted by nixerman at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2007 [7 favorites]


Exactly. The media are the weak link here, as far as protesting goes. You don't even have to get up off your ass to cancel your cable subscription but if enough people did that, it would send the powers that be a very clear message that things are different now and the game has changed.

It's easy, it saves you money and gives you time for other things, and it has the potential to kneecap the whole game whereby 'what is reality' gets disseminated thusly:

Corporations -> Government -> Media -> Sheep.

Cut the Media out of the picture entirely. Make the government and corporations have to do something else to get their message out to the masses. Change the game.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:03 PM on October 1, 2007


Holy crap, this is different from when I last commented. So, stinkycheese, we're now cutting out the media? What shall we do? Ban television? The internet? Newspapers? I suggest we ban all forms of the written word, as companies could flyer to spread their message. Better get rid of radio too--those advertisements will do too much harm! Of course, that won't stop the telemarketers, so we should get rid of phones . . . The telegraph should be sufficient for communication, correct?
posted by schroedinger at 4:21 PM on October 1, 2007


Do we really have to go through this? I said cancel your cable subscription, not destroy all modern forms of communication.
posted by stinkycheese at 5:19 PM on October 1, 2007


for the record, the Orange Revolution was created by American Interests

"But while the gains of the orange-bedecked "chestnut revolution" are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box."


- from guardian uk
posted by nyoki at 5:55 PM on October 1, 2007


With all due respect, and late to boot, I will listen to what the freaks have to say, as the guys wearing suits in both parties are the reason we are in the screwed up situation we are in. So we will allow the suits to control us more and more, and surrender more and more of our freedoms, while the freaks dance. At least they are dancing, and trying to change something. The power hungry primates will always be able to look respectable, and carry a big stick. You might as well dance and look like a fool. I am interested in what the naked freaks have to say!
posted by sensi63 at 6:46 PM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


nyoki: thanks for that link. Most folks have no idea how involved the US is in contested elections around the world. With that said, I think that NDI does amazing work. I'm not familiar with the GOP's group.
posted by willie11 at 7:53 PM on October 1, 2007


"At least they are dancing"

sigh.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 9:52 PM on October 1, 2007


Disrupt your university, disrupt the very lectures. Disrupt church. Disrupt town meetings. Disrupt Walmart. Disrupt the media whores! See a news team out for a story? Disrupt them! Get in their way! Tell your boss to stuff it at the worst possible moment, and walk out.
posted by Goofyy


Yes! Surely nothing worthwhile ever goes on at universities or churches or town meetings or your job! It's all bathwater!

Eponysterical.
posted by Kwine at 11:08 PM on October 1, 2007


A friend of mine blogged about this recently, in the context of atheist activism and "good cop/bad cop" strategies. She also discusses the protests and die-ins and other tactics used by ACT UP. Particularly relevant:
Again, let's look at the queer movement of the '80s and '90s. The street activists got attention, got on the news, raised visibility and awareness of the issues. The lobbyists and other negotiator-types could then go to the politicians and corporations and institutions and raise a more polite, nuanced form of hell, knowing that the politicians etc. they were working with had at least a baseline awareness of the questions at hand. (One of the things you notice when you look at ACT UP's early years is that, when they took on an issue -- speeding up the approval process for drugs, getting treatment for women with HIV, etc. -- that issue would commonly be on the agenda of the medical and political establishment within six months to a year.)
I know that my reference to the Orange Revolution earlier was not an exact analogy to antiwar protests, but I was reponding to Zachsmind's blanket "Protesting SO doesn't work", which is just wrong, as "never" and "always" statements usually are, at least when they concern human behavior.
posted by rtha at 9:56 AM on October 2, 2007


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