So I guess it’s generic protest season again? Seems to come around
every couple years. I apologize if I sound dismissive; it’s just that
these unprecedented, revolutionary outbreaks of nonpartisan grassroots
activism seem to happen on a pretty regular schedule.
Then again, I’m over 30, so you should probably take what I say with a
grain of salt. You can’t trust people who remember more than two
I used to march. Where, when, and the topic under contention is
immaterial. The important thing is that I realized eventually that
protests are good for exactly two things:
- Building team spirit. There’s nothing like 10,000 people all
yelling “hey hey, ho ho, cargo pants have got to go” to make you feel
empowered and like you are about to win ANY MINUTE NOW.
- Reminding you that the Other Team are a bunch of evil,
kitten-eating, Hitler-licking fuckheads.
This second point is worth expanding on. It’s amazing what protests
will bring out in people. You could go to Washington and protest
against armpit fungus, and I promise you at least five
dyed-in-the-wool armpit fungus supporters would crawl out of the
woodwork just to counter-protest you in the strongest, most
And then the capitol police would come and break it up and prove how
DC is in the pay of the BO lobby.
Actually, there’s a third reason to protest: to build popular and
international sympathy for your cause. Unfortunately, there’s a catch:
this one only works if the police come and kill you. And even then
chances are the U.N. will just issue a Strong Condemnation and adjourn
“That’s not fair! We’re being discussed on CNN!”
Mm-hmmm. So does the Bedroom Intruder guy. Best case scenario,
$PROTEST_SLOGAN becomes a bullet point in the next campaign cycle,
used by someone who initially courts your demographic and then leaves
you miserably disappointed.
“You’re just a cynic! Step aside and let positive thinkers change the world!”
I protest! I’m not a cynic. I’m an optimist. I suspect you’re going to
win, for certain values of winning, only it may take longer than you
want, and it might be more despite you rather than because of you.
The thing about protesting is that it’s fun, and it’s easy. The worst
thing that will happen to you is you get taken away in a paddy wagon
and become eternally exalted in your social circles as a hard-core
freedom fighter. More likely, though, the worst hardship you’ll
encounter is having to hold your pee in for a really long time.
Protests are also lazy, and profoundly negative. It’s virtually
impossible to hold a positive protest; you have to have an enemy to
put together a proper protest; otherwise all the energy drains out of
it. Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert tried to hold an apathetic rally,
but the lack of energy didn’t last. The idea that we all actually work
together pretty well, for the most part, is one which is hard to get
excited about. Much easier to focus on that bastard who just took the
last slice of cake.
Anger is easy, and satisfying, and you can get it all out at once and
have time to grab a beer afterwards. Then you can wait for the anger
to have it’s expected effect—pie for everyone, or whatever. And if it
doesn’t, you get to be angry again!
Positive action is hard, because you have to make a plan, and then
stick to it for days, weeks, or years. You have to take personal
responsibility for it, and and you have to actually pay attention to
the results and adjust accordingly.
I don’t want to be hand-wavey about positive action; but this article
is running long already and I have kids to put to bed. It warrants a
whole entry on it own anyway.
So I’ll just leave you with this teaser thought: how many people are
involved in (insert protest here)? What would happen if every single
one of them named two unique individuals affected by (insert
travesty here) and, instead of focusing on their powerlessness and the
idiocy/corruption/malevolency of the people responsible, focused 100%
of their energy and attention a specific plan of action to make those
two victims’ lives better?