I went to a protest in Philadelphia this past Saturday, and it was more disheartening than anything else. It was against the wars and various other injustices, with a special focus on he recent FBI raids of peace activists and Pennsylvania Homeland Security spying on innocent civilians and activists.
By the end of it, I kind of just felt like going up to the megaphone and asking, “How much moral outrage can one person muster? There are more people handing out fliers here than not, and with this country committing so many disgusting, outrageous acts, I don’t blame you.” I won’t lie, I handed a few out myself. Yet the contrast between the righteous causes featured in the speeches and on the signs and on the fliers and the, as a fellow protester said to me, “complete lack of solidarity” was striking.
However, I don’t believe that we should stop protesting or that we need to find another way to be activists (although protesting is by no means the only way to be an activist). Old fashioned protests have always worked and they will continue to work. But what I went to Saturday – and it is similar to many other antiwar protests I’ve been to, and I’m sure it’s similar to many other demonstrations by progressives, socialists, and the like – was too lethargic, too focused on recruiting for outside groups (like the ANSWER Coalition, as Bob has focused on before), and too passive to do anything other than serve as a large meeting for peace supporters.
The only thing we shut down was part of a bike lane and half a road in the business district of Philadelphia. No one really cared, although we got some positive honks from drivers and some of them were probably annoyed. Maybe that could be the antiwar movement’s new slogan: “We’ll slightly inconvenience you until the wars, the empire, the torture, the spying, the ecological destruction, and the general disrespect toward life is over!”
When I got home, I saw this video on the blog Docudharma, which just compounded my feelings:
In France, the nation is being shut down. Why? Because the retirement age could be raised by two years. Even then, it would still be three years younger than what it is in America! Not to mention, similar protests are happening all over Europe.
In the comments at Docudharma, I said something similar to what I’m saying here, and I got a good reply, from user Activist Guy. You can read the whole thing here, but basically he said screw the permit or march at night and bang on pots and pans or go through neighborhoods where this affects people instead of the business district. And he’s right. The protests in Europe are, for the most part, nonviolent. Yet they are incredibly effective because of their numbers and their tactics.
For now, the antiwar movement doesn’t have numbers. Neither do most movements, because we’ve become a very passive nation. So we must utilize the numbers we do have, whether through coordinated civil disobedience (not just getting arrested for show, but actually affecting others’ lives, by doing things like blocking off streets without permission) or well-organized protests that emulate groups such as the militant Wobblies, who utilized their small numbers incredibly effectively. In any case, we’ve got to get the energy back. That is what will bring people into the movements, and show them that the alternative to the failure of Washington is not copping out and becoming even more passive, but taking politics into their own hands.
By the way, this is my first post on PoliZeros, and I just want to thank Bob Morris for letting me write here. I’ve been reading his blog for a bit of time now and I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s one of the more thoughtful and open political blogs on the web, and I’m proud to now be adding to that.