Another day, another demo

The Stop The War Coalition held an antiwar demonstration on Monday in London. It was successful in that it was held in defiance of a governmental ban on protests in the area, and the government backed down at the last moment.

But Socialist Unity asks, if a demo is held in a big city and the mainstream press ignores it, did anyone hear it? Indeed. I’ve been thinking the same thing. The Sept. 15 march and demo in D.C. drew 100,000 people, had 200 arrests for civil disobedience, yet the response from mainstream media was mostly crickets. It’s not always this way. Sometimes smaller protests have made the front page of newspapers.

Part of it is timing. Don’t hold a demo when other news will dominate the news. The London demo (in addition to being on a Monday) was on the opening day of Parliament.

On the day Gordon Brown becomes leader of the Labour Party there is no point having a demo, because Gordon Brown will dominate the news and you won’t be reported.

On the day parliament opens there is no point having a demo, because the opening of parliament will dominate the news and you won’t be reported.

In addition to the inevitable demo fatigue, when the bulk of the populace now opposes the war, but the protests are getting smaller, then it’s clear they are becoming less effective.

There are still tremendous strengths in the Stop the War Coalition, in the many local groups around the country still campaigning. But we need to be much more imaginative than constant demos through the streets of London.

Agreed. New approaches and tactics are needed. Civil disobedience and direct action come to mind, but they need to be creative and targeted, not just lying down in the streets, but lying down in the streets at a specific time for a specific purpose to block something from happening. They need to be deliberately aimed to resonate with the public and get major press.

Satire and street theatre can also be hugely effective. In the 60’s, when Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin threw dollar bills off the balcony to traders on the New York Stock Exchange, the whole world watched and laughed as traders scrambled and fought for the money. It was a brilliant tactic, made a point, and got headlines worldwide.

If we make our protests mediaworthy events, they will be reported.


  1. Being a wrinkled old septuagenarian I have wrestled all my life with “symbolic” actions and have wondered about all the demos I have been on and though I felt they were successful, on reflection their impact was probably minimal to nil. Your example of the dollars at the New York stock exchange is one where it got lots of publicity and showed the public something but sadly the stock exchanged carried and is still doing what it always does, so basically it effect was nil. I still don’t know the answer except to keep trying to raise the general public awareness by slow propaganda at the grass roots level rather than the grandiose display in front of the powers that be, continually trying to get the public to disengage from the system and create alternatives. I agree that with war and erosion of civil rights we sometimes need the more dramatic display of our displeasure but it still must have the backing of the mass of people and they must be aware that we are doing it, the question is how do we get there?

  2. Demos do help build the movement and recruit new people, and long-term this is good.

    But in terms of mass impact, yes, we need something new.

  3. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact– no short cut for grassroots consensus-building.

  4. The Sept. 15 antiwar protest in D.C. was especially enthusiastic and animated. Clearly, the movement itself was motivated, a spirit that hasn’t as yet moved into the populace at large.

  5. It’s not going to move on its own. Excitement is a transformative experience– a “conversion” if you will– which is transmitted through personal contact.

    The really good conversion specialists have studied the methods of the early (18th century) evangelicals, and can convert people on a group level. And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with religion. It’s a set of techniques, used effectively in many types of groups from political to business to sports. Even Hitler used these same techniques with great success.

    For most of us, though, it’s just one person talking to another– one new convert at a time. It’s much slower and less glamorous that way, but there’s nothing more effective.

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