the efficacy and purpose of protest

I love love love Greg over at The Talent Show, but he has an aversion to public protests that I simply do not share.  Here’s a not atypical example: 

Considering how closely intertwined our economic fates are with China (they own our debt, make our consumer goods, etc.), protesting their human rights record by threatening to skip their party (Olympic opening ceremony) sounds about as effective as protesting Wal-Mart’s labor practices by writing “You Suck” on your receipt.

 While I understand that protestors in the street are at danger of having their message misconstrued or simply ignored, I disagree that protesting in a public forum has no value.  It’s sometimes a great way to get your message out to people who may not otherwise even know there are organized, concerned citizens fighting for civil liberties or against a war. 

Just think about seeing those grannies out in the streets in Pasadena, protesting the war in Iraq.  You see them and you realize hey, people of all ages are with us on this, and what have I done today to help bring our troops home?

And also, it’s just the right thing to do.  Even if you can’t beat ’em, even if it’s a drop of conscience in an ocean of corruption, you shouldn’t join the forces of evil by attending their events, buying their products, or putting up with it without at least letting people know that you are opposed to their inhuman treatment of others.

And in that spirit, this bit of news about the May Day strike on the West Coast warms the cockles of my heart:

West Coast cargo traffic came to a halt Thursday as port workers staged daylong anti-war protests to commemorate May Day, terminal operators said Thursday.

Thousands of dockworkers did not show up for the morning shift, leaving ships and truck drivers idle at ports from Long Beach to Seattle, Pacific Maritime Association spokesman Steve Getzug said.

  Even if they’re only slowing down shipping for eight hours or so, this show of solidarity on May Day says in no uncertain terms that working people care about ending the war.  This is exactly the type of civil disobedience that piece by piece ended Jim Crow and helped end the Vietnam War.  Even if we do live in an era when anyone can rally people around a cause online and email their Congressman eight times a day, I think there is still value in public displays of support for a cause.

2 thoughts on “the efficacy and purpose of protest

  1. I think Greg may be put off by empty spectacles that have come to characterize the public protests that have been so common over the past decade. At the end of the day, disrupting the Olympic Torch relay does less to put pressure on China than getting those same people involved in pressuring our candidates and elected officials. The Latinos who did not go to work got a concerted message out about what they bring to our workforce. The people who disrupted the torch relays failed to make the same kind of focused statement.

  2. I agree that the goofy street theater hippiedom of some protests, especially stateside, has weakened their efficacy [sp?]. But I think these specific protests are different.

    While putting out a torch may not stop the Olympics from happening, it does show the world how much so many people hate China’s government for its crackdowns and intolerance–and I’m certain that those protestors and the organizations they are part of do also put pressure on candidates and elected officials by phone calls, emails, and even websites and blogs. It’s not an either/or game, and as long as no one goes to the protest and shits on an American flag, addressing an issue in the streets only helps, even if only a little bit more than phone calls alone, which also have the taint of desperation and emptiness (when you’re talking to Dianne Feinstein’s interns for example).

    In the case of the Chinese olympics, I think boycotting the opening ceremonies isn’t just about a gesture to piss off Beijing, it’s a moral imperative. We can’t condone the banishment of two million residents from their homes, the thousands of protestors jailed, and I haven’t even started talking about Tibet or Darfur yet. We can’t just go there, sit down in the auditoriums built on the former sites of neighborhoods, and just say “who cares about jailing dissidents? Let the games begin!”

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