August 31, 2004

RNC Protest Photos Taz at Loaded Mouth took some shots of the protests at the convention. Personally, I'm with Matt Yglesias on this.

At root the issue is that large contemporary protests have become these carnival-like escapades. It is accepted -- and, indeed, encouraged -- for as many people as possible to show up, whether or not they agree with the United For Peace and Justice platform, know what the UFPJ platform is, or even know what UFPJ is. As a result, it's hard to know what protest attendance signifies. When thousands of people showed up for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington we understood that to mean that all those people were supporters of the Civil Rights Act demanding congressional action. At the UFPJ event, by contrast, you had people with all manner of views on Iraq policy a lot of people whose problems with the Bush administration really have nothing to do with foreign affairs, and my favorite fringe group of all time, the Spartacist Youth League complaining that the US needs to stop interfering with North Korea's right to a nuclear bomb. Most of the people there seemed to be impassioned Kerry supporters, but the best-organized elements were Nader's people. Obviously the message of a pro-Kerry anti-Bush protestor and that of a pro-Nader anti-Bush protestor are bound to be rather different.
These people don't really seem to have a "point" anymore. It's just protesting for the sake of it.
  • I've said it before. There are 2 kinds of rallies. The kinds you hold when you wanna demonstrate how much power you have to influence a descision maker. And the kind you hold when you want to energize your troops and get them excited to go do something else. Most modern protests have been unquestionably of the latter variety (the only exception I can think of that has been even remotely successful on the massive scale is Seattle '99 - there is no question that the entire Globalizaton debate has been completely reframed since that bloody week). I can think of lots of small scale and local exceptions, but those aren't the sort of thing Monkey's will have heard of. So, did yesterdays protests have a message? No. Were they important? Yes. If only 1 % of the people I was handing flyers to attend one of the trainings this week that the awesome folks at MFA are holding this week - well, thats 300 people who have been trained to do something that will have a real effect, on this election, and on politics in the long term. If only .1 % of the marchers who were out there yesterday feel energized enough by that walk to take a trip to pennsylvania, and canvass door to door for a few hours, and they convince 10 voters each? thats FOUR THOUSAND SWING STATE VOTERS that will have been influenced. And to be honest with you, that last set of numbers is pretty damned conservative.
  • I think Yglesias is focusing on minor elements of the protest and blowing them up. I was there, and I know it's tough from the vantage point of a lone protestor to list the factors of what influenced a protest of this size, but I only saw one Nader sign the whole time I marched. And the Spartacist chuckleheads are at every protest, big or small. I think I saw 10 of them at yeserdays march, which is a huge turnout compared to the usual 2 that will hand out "Workers Vanguard." While the protestors themselves had multiple issues, there was one underlying issue of this protest: We hate Bush. Thanks for the link, BTW.
  • This just in: Rudi Guiliani's a cock. Damn, I thought I'd found a decent Republican. Listening to his RNC rant, I realise I was horribly mislead. Sullivan: Personally, I'm with Matt Yglesias on this. Matt Yglesias: I don't really have a "point" to make. Gotcha ;) Public order issues have become tedious as hell. Psyko hit the nail on the head there - other than Seattle, it's all been downhill since Paris '68.
  • Is it just me, or did John McCain frame the convention as George Bush vs. Michael Moore? If, as they say, a man is defined by his enemies, then that's kind of sad (for both of them.)
  • I have thought the same sort of things about most modern protests- when people say "we want to end greed in the world" (and yes I have heard them say it), it's just silly. If people are protesting the war, more power to you and I will try to be out there with you next chance I get- ending the war is a finite, achievable goal. But I have always wondered, what exactly are people protesting at political conventions? Do they think the republicans should not be allowed to have one? Are they hoping they will convince them to nominate someone besides Bush? protesting the general existence of Bush and the Republican party, and if so, why not go to the White House or Capitol? Not making fun, just honestly not sure....
  • I don't know how much effect they had, but the anti-war protests (last year?) were quite powerful for the wide base they attracted. I do find the style of many of the protest groups off-putting, and I imagine it must be all the more so for more mainstream people than me. I understand the desire to Carnival - I once animated a more than life-size puppet at a Women's Day march - but I also think that the message of marches gets diluted by many people, esp those groups who take their causes to every march, relevant or not. (By the end of that women's day march, the slogan to be chanted was "We're here, we're women, and we don't sell papers!") There is something else about the protest community which I have encountered (maybe not true everywhere, but prevelant enough) - and that is the sense of "you're either with us, or against us." You don't feel like you can say, I agree with you on X, but I disagree with you on Y. Instead, you seem to get handed a package of principles - maybe that impression is the result of these groups that show up at protests, so that you go to talk about women's rights, and find yourself marching along to chants from the International Socialists (people actually too commie even for me.) We need clarity in protests - also dignity, especially if we want to convince those whose social mores are more conservative. Baring breasts is fun at Gay Pride parades (just don't get sunburned!) but if you want the kind of people who find women in trousers a bit shocking to agree with you on an issue like the war, then maybe having that kind of style at another protest isn't worth it. Bad analogy - sorry. I do wonder about where that dignified protesting of the 1960s went, when people sang hymns and songs together as they marched quietly in their suits and dresses with hats and gloves. But we have all changed - so few own hats and gloves, and we don't know any hymns.
  • What about "Jesus is the jockstrap of my conscience"? Is that a hymn?
  • After reading homunculus's link, well, let's hope they don't get too cocky. Actually, I take that back, let's hope they do. Ed Schrock resigns, Schrock also seeks out gay sex on telephone dating services, and gay activists are about to release the tapes. Official story
  • when people say "we want to end greed in the world" I'll agree; that's every bit as silly as declaring a war on terror. You don't feel like you can say, I agree with you on X, but I disagree with you on Y. Exactly. I went to a meeting of Students for Social Equality, and someone gave me a ten-minute harangue for wearing leather shoes. I went to a meeting of the College Democrats, and everyone spent the whole goddamn meeting "networking."
  • I was not around for Dr. King's rallies. But I bet there were plenty of strange characters there too. Overall I agree with Sullivan though. The message of the Seattle WTO protests was simply size. They showed that history hadn't ended just yet, that there was real opposition. But now even Naomi Klein is calling for an end to the movement's Grateful Dead phase, where activists just follow the corporate elite from city to city. A coherent program is long overdue, but what should it be? I don't know either.
  • I dunno... "Bush sucks" seems pretty coherent to me. A movement is not about individual opinions on X and Y; it's about finding a central theme that everyone can agree with. For a movement to succeed, its people need to focus on the big picture and agree to disagree on minor points. When you start arguing X and Y, you dilute the primary message and drag the people around you into needless debate. If you must attend meetings, aim for the ones called workshops or action meetings. When things start to spiral down the toilet, you can be the one who says "Yeah, but what are we gonna DO about it right now?" As for hymns, the only one you really need to know is We Shall Overcome. Learn it and sing it loud. Wear a suit and hat if you wanna. Nobody's stopping you from acting dignified, even if you're naked. Be the change you want to see in the world, let your little light shine, keep your eyes on the prize, etc.
  • If only .1 % of the marchers who were out there yesterday feel energized enough by that walk to take a trip to pennsylvania, and canvass door to door for a few hours, and they convince 10 voters each? thats FOUR THOUSAND SWING STATE VOTERS that will have been influenced. Are you selling me Amway?
  • cephalophile don't you understand it's the media's fault. it's that liberal media that has got this country all twisted "And since September 11th President Bush has remained rock solid. It doesn't matter how he is demonized.It doesn't matter what the media does to ridicule him or misinterpret him or defeat him. They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan." /always remember the dead prez line "gulliani, you are full of shit"
  • I think people go to protests for a number of different reasons. I personally wasn't looking for any ground breaking outcome to come from this one. I just wanted to join with others who are frustrated and fed up and are hoping for change. Since I spend my day job and about half of my free time actively working on issues affected adversely by the Bush administration, I think my voice is a valid one. For other people, this protest maybe the only form of political activism they participate in, or the first that they've participated in. And that is where Captain Psyko has the right idea... educating these people on how they can make substantive change. Especially those who feel disenfranchised and don't know how they can make difference. My step-father told me something that made me take heart when I questioned whether these types of actions are relevent. He said "They are important. These types of protests ended the Vietnam War". He served in Vietnam, and NEVER talks about it to anyone. I appreciated his perspective.
  • Rick Perlstein in The Village Voice pretty much nails it, I think. (via Electrolite) For me, the problem is the selfishness of the fringe. Regardless of whether or not I agree with Fringe Element X on Issue Y, it pains me to see the complete inability of so many to let go of their personal interests for a wider cause they support. jb had it right - the anti-war protests gained because of the massive support base they had, and the wide variety of people they attracted (many of them as far from being standard "protester types" as you could imagine). They may not have prevented the war, but they had postitve effects in 'legitimising' dissent and scepticism, of which we still don't know the final consequences. More so than the anti-globalisation movement (and in common with the RNC protests) they had one simple, clear aim. That was not the problem. The problem was that for too many, that one simple clear aim wasn't enough. I was driven away from the anti-war movement because by marching with these people I was putting my name to things I didn't believe. Even with something I did believe (say, the need for a Palestinian state) it infuriated me that there were placards everywhere with "Free Palestine" on them because that wasn't what we were protesting about. And this wasn't a small number of easily ignorable lunatics, like the Socialist Workers who turn up to every demo to throw newspapers at you. It was a systematic subversion of a common goal, and attempt to piggyback less popular causes on the one with widespread support. It struck me that either it was a pretty unfavourable indication of the levels of thought and realism on too much of the left - annoying, but hardly earth shattering news - or far more disturbingly, an awful lot of these people had absolutely no interest in succeeding, and nor did they even care much about the issue at hand. Which, coming in the midst of a genuinely popular movement of enormous scale, and with such potential for doing good, was a slightly depressing thought. It's as though, after years of Judean People's Front vs. People Front of Judea bickering, we've finally got together and formed the United Judean Movement. Only to turn up at the rally to find that we're also lending our names to the Aqueduct Destruction Army.
  • Seriously, I'm not being snarky at all, but how do you people take time off your jobs to protest? Did you put in time for a vacation? Or am I correct that many protesters are retired or students? What gives?
  • Well, these large protests were on a Sunday. So...
  • No, obviously I know about the weekend protests. But there are many during the week...
  • RNC Diary of a Strip-Club Waitress Ed Schrock resigns, Schrock also seeks out gay sex on telephone dating services, and gay activists are about to release the tapes. Official story Interesting links, homunculus and polychrome!
  • Holy shit, I can't believe the crazy abortion guy was there. He really gets around. I think I've seen him at practically every gathering of more than 50 people here in Boston.
  • Well, naxosaur, in my case, I went to protest the Destiny Church fuckheads at the cost of a few hundred dollars in billings. Unlike the religious right, I'm not "people on benefits", so it costs me money to stand up and be counted. Some of us actually give a damn.
  • Flashboy, I sympathize 100%. I go to protests every now and then and half the time I want to throw a punch at people supposedly on "my" side. The weirdos are disproportionately visible. Like, during the anti-war protests of 2003 in Vancouver, there was incredible mainstream turnout. Regular suburban folks in the streets. I saw this hippie couple with a BONGS NOT BOMBS sign -- and of course the media was interviewing them. I waited till their interview was over and started berating the cameraman and the reporter, asking why they had to interview the least serious people there. (The hippie couple started screaming at me too, saying like, dude, what gives you the right to say that bongs aren't important!?!?) I got my interview, by being intelligently angry. Maybe they'll never use it, but I did get my airtime. So if our problem is that the crazies are drowning us out, maybe we should be looking in the mirror for the solution? It's hard to match the 24/7 fervour and telegnicness of the psychos, but we have to believe it's possible. Or even if it ISN'T possible, we can get the message out person to person, or in forums like these.
  • Off topic, sorta, I was nearly arrested on my way to yoga class because I accidentally got caught in the middle of a protest that was being dispersed. I was near the main branch of the public library on 42nd St, when a couple of hundred protesters ran around the corner straight for me. I stepped back against the building, and then I saw dozens of cops chasing and trying to unfurl the orange netting. This is the police high tech approach to making mass arrests. Basically, if you get caught in the orange netting, you get arrested. But that tactic doesnt work so well when you are chasing people from behind. I managed to escape up some steps adjacent to the side entrance of the library. By the time the cops got their netting unwound and formed a circle, they had captured about 25 tourists and other pedestrians who were clearly not protesters. In fact, I dont think there was a single protester in the group. The cops stood there looking dumb for about 10 minutes, and then let everyone go. Idiots. And they made me miss my class.
  • spackle: A movement is not about individual opinions on X and Y; it's about finding a central theme that everyone can agree with My point was that the central theme was point x, theme x being the one we were all there for, but that I was being asked to agree with point y (and z, and w) as well. (But this point has been made more elegantly by other posters).
  • rodgerd, you rule. I wish I could have been there for that, but alas, Christchurch to Wellington for a protest is a bit tricky.
  • From Democracy Now
    The New York police have charged four activists with two felonies for hanging a banner last week because a police officer was injured while reporting to the scene. Their attorney has accused the police of trumping up the charge in order to scare off future demonstrators.
    There is audio of an interview with protester Terra Lawson-Rember. And the The New York Post has a great picture of Lawson-Rember hanging from the plaza. The protesters are looking at a possible 25 years, according to DN.
  • (I should add chinashop is a friend's blog, not mine).
  • Sullivan: do you not think people should be vocal in a participatory democracy? More than voting every few years is required of the citizenry. drjimmy11: I think many messages are intended in protest, but one in particular stands out to me in this case -- "We reject the values described and advocated by the Republican party". I realize that's a rather broad umbrella, but these protests are about more than the invasion of Iraq or the attack on human rights of gays or separation of church and state becoming endangered. Some groups of protestors may have a stronger focus on some policies, but collectively, they are showing that they disavow any commonality with the current Republican party. verbose (and others): who are you to decide what the only acceptable messages and manner of dress for protesters might be? As for the protests in general, I'm delighted that all the people seem to be behaving so well. Having your voice heard in the U.S. can be difficult at times, and all the protesters (those opposing the Republican party, those supporting it, and all the rest) deserve a bit of credit for actually getting off their asses and participating instead of waiting until the election is over and whining about the results.
  • coppermac: I'm not saying their message was unacceptable. I'm saying it was a) unrepresentative of the march as a whole; b) stupid. Note that I didn't interfere with their interview. They have their right to have a say. I don't want to be a gate-keeper. My problem is with the media. Their job is to provide interesting images in between commercials, so they tend to focus *only* on the colorful, outlandish, prurient or violent aspects of protests.
  • LRAD?
  • Damn it, damn it, damn it, damn it. People should be losing their jobs over this.
  • Ok, here's the thing, I was in Berlin back in '87. The DDR border police were only slightly more scary than the NYPD last week. Could be worse though, I guess. They haven't shipped Snake Plissken here yet..
  • Could be worse though, I guess. They haven't shipped Snake Plissken here yet. Snake Plissken?...I thought he was dead.
  • LRAD: also works on pirates!
  • During the week of the 2004 convention, police arrested some 1800 protesters – more than at any previous political convention in the country’s history. Now watch this drive.
  • "If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation. (Because) if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press." Yeaahhh . . see . . Okay. Here's . . . okay. Damn.
  • *wonders if they beta tested waterboarding*