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October 10, 2007

Why The Kids Don't Protest

The other reason kids don't protest anymore is that they don't think protesting works. And they don't think it works because when they hold massive protests, the media doesn't give their argument a fair hearing, but instead mocks and marginalizes them, and picks out the most extreme participants in order to discredit the whole. On all this, the kids are right. But even I never thought that folks like Tom Friedman -- who was complicit, if not causal, in the media atmosphere that ignored the Iraq War protests -- would then lambaste them for laziness, or cowardice.

October 10, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Not to mention you get tear gassed by vicious wild-eyed riot cops, beaten on with clubs, electrocuted with tasers, thrown into jail, etc.

For what? The idea of a demonstration is a.) to petition the government for a redress of grievances, and b.) to get the attention of the public. Regarding b.) nowadays you can get 150,000 people on the street in Washington D.C. but not one news network will bother to interrupt their coverage of Britney Spears's latest personal scandal to show them for so long as thirty seconds. As far as speaking to government officials, you're forbidden to get within a thousand yards of any of the sociopathic bastards; at best you are allowed to petition the barbed wire fence around a designated protest site instead.

Posted by: W. Kiernan | Oct 10, 2007 11:16:04 AM

T. Friedman hasn't had anything worthwhile to say for the last six years. From his "the next six months are critical" dispatches about Iraq (every six months) to his "my anecdotes are objective data about the state of global capitalism" word-doodles, he's provided some of the most asinine commentary on modern events I've ever read. Also, he's a charter member of "this ship isn't sinking, it's just my asthma acting up" school of political journalism, along with David Brooks.

Posted by: Nameless Newshound | Oct 10, 2007 11:36:38 AM

"Protesting" was something shocking in the sixties. It was a last ditch effort when all other avenues had failed.
Today, it's the *first* tactic used and has been overused and like anything else, it's old hat and usual.

Is there really any mystery why it's overuse and inappropriate use has led to no one paying attention?

Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 10, 2007 11:48:41 AM

Blaming the media for the laziness of our youth (myself included) is kind of, well, really lame. Of course protesting does work and will always work, it's just too big of a hassle right now for all the obvious reasons. As to the Iraq War, the reality is that it was supported by a supermajority of the population, and the protests against it were neither large enough nor broad enough to change the political climate.

Bring back the draft, I guarantee you'll see some fireworks.

Posted by: Korha | Oct 10, 2007 11:53:41 AM

Korha sez:
"As to the Iraq War, the reality is that it was supported by a supermajority of the population..."
Sure, like they all went out and did their own real investigations into the yellowcake/WMD claims, and then decided that they were satisfied, and then went ahead and supported the war.
No, they were spoonfed falsehoods by the same media that suppressed reporting of the protests, and they made their "decision" to support the war based on that bad data. Maybe if the mega-conglomerates had reported on the dubious nature of the claims, or even showed America that there were some of us who had grave reservations about the reasoning for the war, then maybe some people would have had more reason to question, and ultimately protest.
This laziness accusation is, as noted, hypocrisy of the first degree. Flim flam men, all of them.
As for the draft, well, why should we when we can hire mercenaries at ten times the price? Everyone wins!

Posted by: Govt Skeptic | Oct 10, 2007 12:07:02 PM

You're dead-on Ezra - protesting in the US doesn't generally work because the establishment types have glommed onto a few things that make protests ineffective - outright ignoring them most of the time, and reporting them with derision and mockery when they don't ignore them. Add that to idiot teenagers who attempted to drum up protests for everything while trying to turn the '90's into the '60's (and the oldsters who encouraged the behaviour) and you have a mix that makes protests ineffectual.

Now, what makes protests work is when they aren't YOUTH protests but EVERYBODY protests. The pro-immigration rallies a few months back were impressive because the composition of the protests were cross-everything - cross-cultural, cross-age, cross-gender - it didn't matter. You could see that a lot of people were mad and you couldn't just pigeon-hole them into "radicals" or "kids" or whatever insult the press wanted to hurl at them - they had to be dealt with as a whole.

In other words, if Friedman wants to see some effectual protests, he should start getting his friends together and set them up. Somehow, I doubt Friedman wants to see effectual protests though.

Posted by: NonyNony | Oct 10, 2007 12:09:16 PM

Maybe if the mega-conglomerates had reported on the dubious nature of the claims...

Lesseeee...

Dozens and dozens of news media outlets, foreign news sources on American TV, untold numbers of news media available on the internet and they all colluded to support the war.

That about it?

Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 10, 2007 12:10:13 PM

How dare Tom Friedman accuse anyone of cowardice. Has he sacrificed a single damn thing during this war he supported? Or has he continued to just live in a huge house with his billionaire wife while he flies around the world to talk to cab drivers?

Posted by: Joshua | Oct 10, 2007 12:30:58 PM

Teh reason you don't protest is because you're too fucking busy wanking on your iPod and your WOW and your Second Life and your Halo and your IM and your myspace pages. d00d.

Posted by: feh | Oct 10, 2007 12:37:33 PM

"Now, what makes protests work is when they aren't YOUTH protests but EVERYBODY protests.

I seem to remember that happening a few years back, y'know.

Posted by: Dan S. | Oct 10, 2007 12:37:54 PM

i have a friend who is a music professor at the nearby state university. recently she was bemoaning the lack of outrage, the absence of activism and protest. i replied

Don't Taze Me Bro!

nuff said.

Posted by: minstrel boy | Oct 10, 2007 12:41:18 PM

The very first anti-war protest I went to was on the eve of the invasion, and it was sponsored by a Quaker church. When I got there, there were about 60 people, and at the end of the night there were maybe 200.
No, we didn't stop the war. It was awfully reassuring though to meet a bunch of people that lived in my community that weren't batshit crazy insane, during a time when the rest of the country seemed completely nuts.
I still know alot of those people I met that night, still see them at other events, we share news and ideas, and I don't regret for a minute going to that "worthless" anti war protest that night.

Posted by: chowchowchow | Oct 10, 2007 12:43:51 PM

back in the day, politicians could be moved by the weight of public opinion shifting against them. nowadays, the government controls public opinion to a degree unprecedented in our history, and so is the election process. demonstrations don't change any minds in washington DC. the minds that are changed by demonstrations are the minds of the rest of the people sitting frightened and depressed in front of their TV sets, hoping somebody will rescue them.

demonstrations serve the purpose of radicalizing the non-participants and accreting them to a broad based movement. you may say that this process is not observed by polls or similar information-gathering systems, and you would be right, but little by little ordinary people who never even thought of protesting before are starting to leak out onto america's streetcorners, demanding to know why their voices are unheard.

you may say that acts of symbolic defiance are useless in the face of the power of the state, but i say that as long as it is possible to demonstrate without being permanently imprisoned or executed, we must continue to do so. we must. for when the day comes when to demonstrate IS to risk being disappeared or killed, we will wonder what the hell we were thinking and doing before. it's one of those "use it or lose it" rights.

let's dredge up the tired old cliche of "what would our founding fathers have done". when it was apparent that their demands for redress of grievances were ignored, did they give up, and say "protest doesn't do any good"? no - they STEPPED UP. do you hear anybody in the public sphere saying anything as stirring as "give me liberty or give me death"? all they seem to be willing to say is "let us all come together and reach a compromise."

protest is only the beginning; what has to follow is actual civil disobedience, which is protest on a whole other level. it's not simply marching around in our little fenced-in areas, it's actively interfering with processes that we know to be evil. not just questionable - evil.

as i said to a friend who was sick of her dead end job but afraid to quit for fear of economic catastrophe, "eventually you will reach a point when the disgust becomes stronger than the fear."

i leave you with a well-worn quote from mario savio with which i hope you are already too familiar:

"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"

Posted by: r@d@r | Oct 10, 2007 12:45:43 PM

Voting has always been more effective than protesting, and protests were always a response to disenfranchisement. Before the March on Washington in 1965, African-Americans in the South were effectively denied the vote. Before the 26th Amendment, passed in 1970, citizens under 21 couldn't vote. It's not a concedence that the large-scale student protests ended by the 1972 election, the first where 18-year-olds could vote. Since all of the current activists can vote (and persuade their contemporaries to vote), there's no need for protests.

Posted by: arthur | Oct 10, 2007 12:46:39 PM

r@d@r brings up a good point-- a march isn't a "protest," it is only a piece. A real protests are nothing without the ability to leverage power. Protest marches need to go hand in hand with general strikes, boycotts, fundraising for supportive politicians, and electoral challenges against political enemies.

Protests aren't about making yourself feel good. They're about exerting power. Figure out how to exert your power over politicians and public opinion, and do those things.

Posted by: Tyro | Oct 10, 2007 12:55:17 PM

2 points:

1. One reason people don't protest is because the protests themselves are so radical. When you have International ANSWER up there talking about freeing Mumia or similar claptrap, it creates a disincentive for reasonable people to join the protests.

2. If a Democrat gets elected, and the war in Iraq continues (i.e., significant ongoing American casualties), at that point, there will be protests. Big ones.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Oct 10, 2007 1:07:06 PM

I agree with Dilan Esper on point 1, point 2 I am not so sure about.

Posted by: feh | Oct 10, 2007 1:18:32 PM

2. If a Democrat gets elected, and the war in Iraq continues (i.e., significant ongoing American casualties), at that point, there will be protests. Big ones.

that's not unlike the massive protests over Johnson's expansion of Eisenhower's war in Vietnam.

but i think there are a couple of things going on that disenchant people from protesting. first, protests often bring too many messages that aren't palatable to the spectrum of leftist opinions, so for instance, a pro-israel liberal would 'like' to attend a protest of israel's settlment policy, but not at the cost of associating with anti-israeli liberals who'd like to see the country returned to the palestinians. or an environmentalist liberal would like to attend a protest of logging practices, but not at the cost of associating with PETA. so that's one issue. another is that cynicism is too rampant in liberal worldviews. it seems as though, and probably is the case, that groups that are being protested like the WTO can simply close their blinds and go on with their normal business. the reasons why protesting are ineffective i think are larger than the reasons why people decide not to try them anymore.

Posted by: Cody | Oct 10, 2007 1:19:15 PM

Obviously "the kids" should feel really bad when Tom Friedman looks down on them, because he's really an incredibly perceptive, hard working, self-sacrificing noble guy.

Posted by: El Cid | Oct 10, 2007 1:25:32 PM

"Now, what makes protests work is when they aren't YOUTH protests but EVERYBODY protests. The pro-immigration rallies a few months back were impressive because the composition of the protests were cross-everything - cross-cultural, cross-age, cross-gender - it didn't matter. You could see that a lot of people were mad and you couldn't just pigeon-hole them into "radicals" or "kids" or whatever insult the press wanted to hurl at them - they had to be dealt with as a whole."

Exactly, this was the problem with the Iraq War protests. Nice but just not very effective.

Posted by: Korha | Oct 10, 2007 2:07:48 PM

Mass demonstrations only work backed by an implicit and credible threat of revolution.

Posted by: Senescent | Oct 10, 2007 2:34:37 PM

Mass demonstrations only work backed by an implicit and credible threat of revolution.

Ding ding ding. Got to love a country where everyone, regardless of political stripe, wanks over its 'revolutionaries' in a way designed to neuter their radicalism.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Oct 10, 2007 2:56:08 PM

Dozens and dozens of news media outlets, foreign news sources on American TV, untold numbers of news media available on the internet and they all colluded to support the war.

That about it?

Posted by: El Viajero

I don't know exactly how much meaning you are giving to "colluded," Fred, but it's as much a provable fact as anything in politics that at least some of the claims were dubious, and it's also pretty hard to deny that while there was a little coverage of that, it was inadequate. So what's your explanation, then?

Posted by: Cyrus | Oct 10, 2007 3:04:24 PM

That's because protests are things you do in a democracy, when you imagine the voice of the people holds power, and that this will can be demonstrated or influenced by public speech. Now, we have lost all faith in discourse-- we do not imagine we can convince our political opponents through reasoned argument or public demonstration. Worse, we have lost all faith in democracy-- Bush does not care what the law says or what the people want, and robs the rest of our elected leaders of power to make even the most minute impact.

This is, of course, in conjunction with all the other reasons mentioned-- but I think it's worth bearing in mind that protest is a sign of a healthy democracy. The absence of protest should be deeply troubling to all of us.

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Oct 10, 2007 3:18:45 PM

I don't see Tom Friedman out there protesting either. I guess we're supposed to know that it's beneath him.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Oct 10, 2007 3:30:20 PM

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