Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America, argues that bureaucracy has killed effective protesting because mass social protests in the U.S. now have a feeling of “Disneyland activism.”
“It feels fake, because it is fake,” she says.
She says protesting in the US has been neutered by endless bureaucratic hurdles that make it impossible to step into the street and block traffic. By blocking traffic you get your point across, something she sees as being essential. She contrasts this with mass protests elsewhere in the world, like in the Balkans and Philippines, where mass protests really did force political change.
While I understand her main point, the death by one thousand cuts of permits and regulations that stultifies protest, that’s not the whole problem. I helped organize multiple antiwar protests in L.A. and elsewhere from 2003-2006. Some of them were huge. We did get permits and block the streets. But yes, sometimes it did have a staged feel to it, like we were just acting.
But the primary reason protests elsewhere succeeded is because they had the numbers, both in people in the streets and major support within the population.
If you can put a million people in the streets, you don’t need a permit and are way too large for the police to do much (unless they bring in the tanks.) Especially if the bulk of the population supports you. That’s the crucial difference, and is what US protests haven’t had.
Also, such game-changing protests elsewhere almost always are single issue. There’s none of the confusing mix of antiwar / LGBT rights / Free Mumia / smash capitalism, etc. that US antiwar protests have had. Instead, there is only one demand, which gives a sharp, easily understood focus to the protest.
So, with huge numbers, a single demand, and support from the population, mass protests can be hugely effective – and sometimes topple governments. Against that, attempts at stopping protests by onerous permits and regulations ceases to be an issue.