From The New Yorker:
III. How College Kids Imagine the United States Government
THE PRESENT DAY
—Did you hear the news, Mr. President? The students at the University of Pittsfield are walking out of their classes, in protest over the war.
—(spits out coffee) Wha— What did you say?
—Apparently, students are standing up in the middle of lectures and walking right out of the building.
—But students love lectures. If they’re willing to give those up, they must really be serious about this peace thing! How did you hear about this protest?
—The White House hears about every protest, no matter how small.
—Oh, right, I remember.
—You haven’t heard the half of it, Mr. President. The leader of the group says that if you don’t stop the war today they’re going to . . . to . . . I’m sorry, I can’t say it out loud. It’s just too terrifying.
—Say it, damn it! I’m the President!
—All right! If you don’t stop the war . . . they’re going to stop going to school for the remainder of the week.
—Send the troops home.
—But, Mr. President! Shouldn’t we talk about this?
—Send the troops home.
When I was young and a fundamentalist, I used to attend the yearly March for Life in DC. Then one year I realized that all it accomplished was to make us feel good about ourselves and angry at the people across the picket lines, and I stopped going.
Do political demonstrations ever accomplish anything other than a sense of camaraderie?
I never considered being an activist for more than half a second. The big decisions are made by people with big power playing hardball; the individual citizen is far too insignificant to the people in power for them to ever influence those in power, save election time where the individual is a tiny part of a statistic which influences the sway of power.
.. I totally agree with this assessment… I’ve never found marches to be all that effective at much of anything…
analytically.. they expend time and energy on an event that may or may not get any media coverage and thus may or may not really receive any possible public notice…
However… if march organizes were smart enough to make all of their members actually stop, sit down and write a letter to their representatives and senators and then send them off.. I think they could actually be quite effective, since such kinds of political action do seem to be far more effective…
I sincerely doubt it.
Not, at least, since MLK.
But that is the difference then, though. These things build camaraderie within and animosity without. King didn’t do that. He never led a we/they sort of movement. There was no room in his mind for animosity.
The “we/they”, “good/bad” sort of mentality that springs up from these sorts of things are destructive at best. The change that they would make, if they did make any at all, would end up being as sick as the thing that they once opposed.
My favorite protest may have been apocryphal, but I believe it was true. Eddie Vedder gave himself a mohawk to protest the war in Afghanistan. That’ll show Mr. Bush. I’m surprised that the president didn’t crumble right then and there.
“Won’t someone please think of Eddie’s hair???!!!!”
As a person who has attended quite a few of these protests, I can say that sometimes they do accomplish things, but only in concert with other efforts, like letter writing campaigns, continuous lobbying, and non-stop pressure on legislators.
Protests don’t really do anything. That said an individual can do a LOT. If they work at it. That’s something that I’ve learned and really want to instill in my kids as well.
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