Tis the season of protests here in DC.
In the last week I have seen a Code Pink shoe display at the Whitehouse gate, a dancing man wearing a paper mache George Bush head, and a pathetically small gathering of women marching for sex workers rights. In addition to which, at least two groups of drum wielding protesters have marched by my office building.
So what the hell do these people think they are accomplishing? I hate to be the one to break it to them, but protests don’t do a thing. Millions of people around the world streamed out into the streets before the Iraq war and it didn’t do a damn bit of good. Seattle protesters got themselves in the news and even managed to shut down a meeting, but the WTO is still here, the World Bank and IMF are still doing the same crap, and we all just mortgaged the rest of our lives to pay off a bunch of international bankers.
Much of this protest delusion comes from the notion that it was protesters that ended the war in Vietnam. United States participation in Vietnam went on for more than a decade, despite all the protesters. And it wasn’t a bunch of marginalized kids marching that made your average Joe fed up with the war. It was seeing body bags come in by the thousands. It was learning about the lies the government was telling. It was seeing My Lai photos plastered all over the paper. In short, it was journalists who risked their lives telling the truth about what was going on, not a bunch of burnt hippies in moccasin boots.
I’m not saying that it is impossible for a large movement of people to force powerful interests to change their tune, but it is rare and requires strategy. The other day I received an email about arranging a general strike across the whole country. Nowhere in the email does it mention what we would be striking for. Where is the focus? Where is the strategy? How are you going to accomplish something if you don’t even know what you are trying to accomplish?
The email I received says that Gandhi showed us how it could be done. Gandhi did show us how it could be done. Gandhi did not dress up in paper mache heads or turtle costumes. He didn’t gather together disparate small groups all asking for different things. He didn’t conduct protests just to pat himself on the back or meet and greet with like-minded people. Gandhi had a plan.
Gandhi’s most famous protest was marching to the ocean to make salt. Gandhi wanted India out from under British colonial rule and knew he needed to show the world the injustice of British rule. The British imposed a salt tax, which gave them a monopoly on salt. Gandhi’s march to make salt fulfilled a real need, highlighted the injustice of British laws, and showed the strength of his movement.
Gandhi was thrown in jail for starting these protests. His treatment by authorities, and the support for his cause, started a domino effect and protests broke out in other areas of the country. That was all part of his plan, as was the media coverage that he cultivated beforehand. He did not just throw something together at the last minute. Today, people just show up at the National Mall on a Sunday afternoon for protests that resemble support groups.
Your average person sees someone dressed as a stuffed animal or with F&#$ the Gap painted on their bare ass and just discounts everything the group is trying to say. Worse, some of my fellow anarchists seem to think that if you destroy everything now, something better will miraculously spring up in its place. Violence is a sure way to turn people off from what you are trying to say.
So please, don’t send me any more calls to protest. Send me a plan. Invite me to a strategy meeting. Let’s pick a realizable goal, identify the obstacles, figure out whose support is needed, and devise a cleverly effective way of pounding away at it until we get somewhere. And if you try to make me wear some ridiculous costume, we’re through.