Wednesday, August 25, 2004


Non-violence in NYC

Since we are on the topic of non-violent popular struggle, there is a particularly interesting and worthwhile article by Rick Perlstein on Common Dreams about the possibility of protest and activism at the RNC in New York this coming weekend backfiring in the long run. Perlstein draws many parallels between the 1968 DNC protests in Chicago (which helped Richard Nixon win the election) and the potential upcoming protests at the RNC in New York. The problem, Perlstein writes, is not in the righteousness of the cause or the sincerity of the activists involved. It is in a lack of strategic thinking, a failure to communicate with those outside of the 'activist circuit,' with those who should be the targets of the protest. The value of protest is not in changing the minds of those in power (somehow I don't think Dick Cheney is going to have a great revelation at the RNC if he sees a hundred thousand protestors) but in drawing attention and sympathy from those who otherwise were unaware or uninterested.
[E]ven the most passive protesters, when arrested, are often perceived by the public—as they were in Chicago in 1968—as bringers of anarchy, and end up hurting the causes they profess to help.

To ask this is not to reject protest; it is just an invitation to strategize—to think about politics.
It would be nice if everybody would think a little bit more, about strategy, about politics, about how you often have to think about what is going to work with other people, not just for yourself.
People get caught up in their righteousness—maybe you are—which is easy to do: Demonstrators do no more "damage" to the Great Lawn than concertgoers. The conventioneers coming to New York are getting subsidized by tax dollars because they are seen as a boon to business, even though the protesters spat upon by the city carry money that is just as green. The city has become a censor. All of these things are true.

Rae Valentine is even right, in a cosmic sense, when she says that "people understand that the so-called chaos of streets being shut down by protesters or even a window being broken is nothing compared to the day-to-day chaos and destruction of people being able to afford housing, or health care. That's where the real violence—in the system—lies."

But she is not right in the sense that matters: the political sense. "I think people understand," she says. Linger on that formulation. It is only inane arrogance that gives someone the confidence to pronounce that, magically, "people will understand." They might not understand at all. Instead, what they might understand is: "Bush is better than anarchy in the streets." It ain't fair. But if it all goes down as unplanned, there'll be a whole lot more unfairness coming down the pike in the next four years.

Alex, I definitely thought this article was interesting, and very much on target. Perhaps I'm a cynic, but I've always thought these protests were self-indulgent, I just couldn't put my finger on what exactly bothered me so much. It just seems to me that if you really wanted to make a difference on an issue, you would go about it by explaining your position courteously and articulately, within your own community first and at a made for TV protest only secondarily.
Love your comment, Gabe! But I think it would be improved if we replaced "protest" with "election campaign" and "made for TV protests" with "made for TV conventions". Otherwise, I agree 100%.
ow! right on.
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