Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ineffective protests

Code Pink and similar folks have perfected protest as street theater, but by enhancing the symbols so much they have robbed them of effectiveness. While the Iraq War is at least as unpopular as Vietnam ever was, they have utterly failed to mobilize effect measures against it. This may very well be because they're mired in the past, every bit as much as the Cold Warriors are.

Over in the American Prospect this point is made by Paul Waldman:
What worked for the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is not going to work today. And the truth is that comparing the civil-rights marches to a bunch of people carrying signs with "No more war!" on one side and "Free Mumia!" on the other is an insult to everyone who took part in the civil-rights movement. The civil-rights activists weren't just looking to feel good about themselves. The political actions they undertook were carefully planned and well executed. They knew exactly which levers of mass and elite opinion they needed to press and how to do it. They weren't trotting off for a Sunday to hang with some friends and speak their minds -- they were engaged in a deadly, serious enterprise, one with enormous personal risks, and they approached it with the seriousness it required.
Any effective political movement has to engage its participants in a way that makes them feel their contributions are meaningful and redefines their sense of self. But if those contributions aren't actually meaningful, if they amount to an extended series of circle jerks that accomplish nothing, then the movement will inevitably be confined to a small group of self-deluding members with a lot of time on their hands. There are tens of millions of Americans who want to end the war in Iraq. But how many of them see something like Code Pink protesting a Marine recruiting station and say to themselves, "I want to be a part of that"?

The whole thing is here:

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