The ineffectiveness of symbolic mass protest

Shoky on the 4Chan DDoS attack on MPAA and how such acts, like mass anti-war protests, have little actual impact upon the targets, The protesters can hand-slap that they sure showed them – but in reality, not much changed.

A DDoS is, unless its targeting more critical backend servers – email, calendars, security (physical and non), etc – the attack is akin to graffiti on the the office building, or paint on the White House, or standing outside the court so no one can enter. (But leaving all the critical backdoors untouched.)

The parallels the plight of traditional mass protest as well. If the protest is to accomplish anything, it’s got to break the law, and transition into an insurgency-style organization. If this shift is mishandled, there’s a good chance the backlash will destroy the organization (or participants). A big part of this is gaining funding to get the snowball you need.

If its handled well”¦. you’re an insurgency.

I helped organize many anti-Iraq War protests, some of which drew hundreds of thousands. Mostly we got ignored by the media and had no effect on policy. Different tactics are indeed needed.

In such protests two things need to be watched.

a) Does the group leading it have ulterior motives? In this case the answer was Yes. The controlling group primarily used the anti-war front group as a way to recruit for their party. But you can’t do both. A group that blocks moderates and non-ideologues from having any say or power can never be a truly mass organization.

b) Watch your base. Because maybe it’s not really there. Once Obama got elected, the anti-war protests fizzled. Apparently most protesters were anti-Bush, not anti-war, with war being ok as long as your side is in power.


  1. Two other factors to consider:

    c) Is your base representative of the constituency of the leaders you wish to influence? In other words, is it an accurate cross-section of the voters? If not, you’ve got no leverage and will either have to do serious grassroots organizing, or turn to violence instead.

    d) Is the mass protest part of a larger strategy, or is it the only tool in your toolbox?

    Too often, people see mass protests as “the” tool for change– possibly because that was the most visible of the anti-war efforts of the 1960s and 1970s. But alone, and without the necessary leverage, it’s an exercise in futility. The earlier anti-war movement had as its base much of the country, and it included a lot of behind the scenes work by a lot of different people at different levels.

    • With the front group being primarily for recruiting, the leaders don’t much care about the ostensible goal of stopping the war or if they have leverage, that’s not their objective.

  2. That sounds like problems (at least the last two) with the antiwar movement, not mass protest.

    A few quotes to consider.

    ” The Iraq War – there was massive protests before it officially started, and I stress “officially” because your candidate for president of the, presidency of the EU, and his colleague George Bush knew that they were already…start[ing] the war when they were putting on a show about wanting diplomacy and so on. But before it was officially started – March, 2003 – there was a massive international protest. I think that’s the first time in history that an imperialist war has been massively protested before it was officially begun… There was no saturation bombing by B-52s, there was no chemical warfare – horrible enough, but it could’ve been a lot worse.

    And furthermore, the Bush Administration had to back down on its war aims. Step by step, it had to allow elections, which they didn’t want to do; mainly a victory for nonviolent Iraqi protest. They could kill insurgents, they couldn’t deal with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, and their hands were tied by the domestic constraints…They had to back down…Iraq’s a horror story, but it could’ve been a lot worse. So, yes, citizen protest can do something…we know that from this and many other examples. When there’s no protest and no attention, the power just goes wild. Like in Cambodia, Northern Laos. ”

    –Noam Chomsky

    “The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones–protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience–but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time. ”

    — Howard Zinn

    • But what if all those protesters in 2003 were in DC and simply decided to block the streets, shut down the city, and not leave until the war was called off? That’s what Shoky means, I think.

      • Oh, I see. I guess I can’t disagree with that.

        Although maybe then they would be viewed by the general public less favorably. I don’t know. I can definitely see what you’re saying but I’m not 100% sure I agree with it.

        • Yes, to shut down DC, you would have to have the support of major parts of the populace. That’s when protest, as Shoky said, becomes an insurgency.

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