Tag Archives: protest

Why (and How) Protests Work

From the anti-war protests of the Bush years through to Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and the other groups too numerous to list, the left has been gaining momentum and sorely needed independence from the death sentence of center-corporate Democratic party policy. With the influx last week of several hundred thousand people at the Women’s March, many of whom  have never protested or marched before, we’re shaping up to be a more formidable force than we’ve been in decades. 

If you’re one of those people who marched for the first time last week, or if you’ve been at it for decades, welcome. We’re gonna need all the people we can get.

Because of this influx, numerous know-it-alls have been trying to seem helpful by questioning the effectiveness of protesting and the sincerity of the protesters. I won’t go into their possible motivations here beyond to say: don’t worry about the haters. Again: we’re gonna need all the people we can get. And some fresh eyes on these issues is always a welcome development.

I’m going to structure this article based around paraphrases of common criticisms I’ve seen. These will be in bold, while responses will be formatted normally.

#1: I understand things are politically FUBAR but why don’t we actually do something instead of just marching or sitting near things all the time?

The march/rally and the sit-in have both been repeated central elements of all the major protest and resistance movements of the last hundred years and beyond for the simple reason that they work.

How are they effective? In no specific order:

-They block the flow of commerce. Being that the major problem here is the extreme concentration of wealth in our society (Trump is an awful symptom), anything that can shut down or even substantially slow the flow of money going in and out of things like banks, shopping malls, etc. gets the attention of the wealthy and forces their hand. If forces their hand because they hate losing money more than literally anything else in the world. The Women’s March shut down the main metro area of nearly every major city in the United States. The economic impacts were likely enormous.

-A march shows that there is in fact broad based support for the cause. This makes the fascists nervous-they know that it’s very likely many of their friends and colleagues disapprove of what they’re doing. This reinforces the social taboos that keep them from acting out. A lot of young men are drifting to the fascists but fascism becomes a much less appealing option for teenage boys once they realize it’s going to severely limit their dating options.

-They work as excellent educational tools for the people that attend them. When people go to a march and they see journalists getting arrested just for being journalists, or their first instance of unwarranted police brutality, they realize pretty quickly that they could’ve been the person getting beaten over the head with a stick. It also gets activists talking to each other and a largely invisible infrastructure develops. Despite a lack of formal infrastructure at Occupy Wall Street, because of it I now have a nation-wide network of other activists with a wide variety of skills I can talk to about what actions to take or any other political questions I might have. The vast bulk of my political education came from long discussions with fellow Occupiers. 

-They boost morale and get everybody outside and moving. It gets pretty lonely and depressing on the internet. A march reaffirms both to the people there and to the people on the fence who weren’t there but were considering it that they’re not alone. They think “oh! So someone else is concerned with this too!”

-It gives the marchers a sense of ownership over the movement. Instead of thinking “I gave money to (blank)”, they now think “I was a part of this!”

#2: Where were you when Obama (expanded the surveillance state, drones, etc)?

This response comes from a place of frustration and I’ll admit the left has, at times, been a slow and frustrating thing to be a part of. The long time lefties have been undercut by the “center-left” corporate wing of the Democratic Party too many times to count, and have seen their efforts co-opted like so many football being pulled away from Charlie Brown. 

However, while it would have been nice to have seen the 3.6 million Women’s Marchers out in 2001 for the initial Iraq war protests, it didn’t happen. This time it happened. The numbers are here and real positive change is in sight. 

On a related note, the level of political literacy in the general population and popular news sources has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 5 years. Even Robert Reich is toying with the idea of abandoning the Democrats.

This is a crisis that effects 99%+ of the population, a population that now knows the banks and the major parties do not represent their interests. No one wants a war with China except a couple people in the White House. The number of extremely broad based issues gaining traction for dissent has grown more in the last 3 months than it did even in the turbulent 9 years since the 2008 crash.

We want you out protesting. The most important moment is now. If someone is hassling you about doing something, ignore them and go about doing something.

#3 You mean well but by protesting you’re doing exactly what the fascists want!

This criticism falsely presumes a) there’s a monolithic fascism that can make decisions as a single coherent actor (there isn’t, much as the fascists would like to imagine themselves as such), b) there’s a monolithic left that can make decisions to protest as a single coherent actor (there isn’t.) 

It’s also a presumption based on a politics that stopped being relevant on November 9th. Yes, the Trump administration is looking for any excuse to ramp up martial law or consolidate power among institutions. It may use the protests against Milo Yiannopolous to do this. However, we also know that this administration will lie about the obvious and apparent. They will find excuses to do what they want regardless of facts or reality. They will only relent on something if they feel like they can’t get away with it. 

The power we have, in our numbers and our principles, is to show them exactly how and why they won’t be able to get away with it.

And with that power comes enormous responsibility.

The University of Missouri Protests: What Happens Now?

The University of Missouri’s black students have used hunger strikes, protests, and walk-outs to try and reach the ears of the university’s administration. The last straw was a swastika drawn on one of the dorm buildings in excrement, which might have been the first and only straw for some, in what the Washington Post called “a flurry of racist incidents” – which essentially can be boiled down to black men and women being harassed, confronted, and threatened for the crime of being in public while black. Now the Mizzou president has answered the calls of the students and stepped down. Correlation would seem to imply causation, but the facts of the case are not so simple.

Tim Wolfe, now former president of the University of Missouri, was a business hire for an educational institution. Wolfe was chosen, as the trustees said in a vapid defense of the hire, because he could bring his tech company know-how and revolutionize the university. As it turns out, he was sent to revolutionize the university through his tech company know-how, but in the only way a tech company CEO could: cutting overhead, amassing capital, and building with a tunnel vision for what he saw as the only marketable project on campus: the football team.

Wolfe raised tuition 3% and tried to kill the university press to save costs while pushing for $72 million expansion to the football stadium. Most odiously, he tried to nix insurance subsidies mere hours before the deadline to get new insurance which would have left grad students – the people who make universities run due to their wage slavery – uninsured and vulnerable. The move could have made people sick, thus threatening the quality of the labor grad students are required to give, but that did not matter as long as the university saved money for the football team.

Compared to these moves, Wolfe’s ignoring the the complaints of minority students might seem almost benignly evil as opposed to actively, wantonly evil. When people are afraid and ask you to help them be unafraid, when they organize their small numbers and try to speak with one voice, it is easy, when you’re the president of the university and you choose who has your ear, to consider a number so small as to fit into the palm of your mighty university-ruling fist unimportant. But the fears of minority students who were increasingly subject to racist intimidation and discrimination on campus grew, and the president stepped down.

But what finally brought attention to his destruction of a state institution? What finally ended his free market approach to higher ed?

Football players threatening not to play football, and thus costing the university money.

It had absolutely nothing to do with a completely anti-education agenda. It had nothing to do, really, with not lifting a finger to assuage racial tensions on campus, thereby facilitating the the entrenchment of the constant threat of racial violence. It ultimately came down to endangering their football standing and having to pay money for breaking a contract, $1 million and some change over not being able to force the school’s young men to bash their brains out on the gridiron.

So now the trustees of the university will search for a clone of this guy who has the same policies and ignores the same issues, and Mizzou students will do this all over again. They’ll likely fight over the press, the grad student insurance, the racial issues that now have been tacitly sanctioned by major administration officials. Next time, Mizzou students will probably be emboldened to fight because finally they got the barest, minimal change for which they could ask and expect a response. They did not ask for a revolution. They asked for one head of the hydra to be chopped off – enough to send a message, but not enough to kill the monster – to temporarily scatter opposition and give students’ allies time to prepare for the two heads that will pop up in its place.

Except next time, they’ll probably lose.

Capitalism may be perpetuated mindlessly, but it was not designed mindlessly. CEOs – the “businessmen” colleges around the country believe will fix institutions that largely weren’t broken – are not idiots. They know how to adapt to markets and take particular pride and joy in infiltrating hostile spaces. The administration will be smarter, having learned from the first go-round. They will hobble the opposition by trying to get ahead of the news cycle, by rolling out diversion tactics in the guise of new plans for racial sensitivity programs on campus that the administration has no desire to support (which, coincidentally, Wolfe tried to do with a program planned for 2016, but he waited too long to deploy it). Administrators will have their statements prepared and vetted by people whose job it is to be sensitive to concerns without any power to address them. They will find a way to undercut support from sources with disproportionate power to the average student – such as football players – by working clauses into their scholarships that will nullify them if they refuse to play on anything but grounds of injury. The businessmen who have infiltrated higher ed will do that at which they excel: bending reality to accept their agendas, destroying opposition to a market takeover, quelling dissent in the ranks, making marketable properties out of educational institutions that can be sold at a profit and enrich a bunch of somebodies who aren’t students.

Higher education and the ideas and philosophy and aspirations that created it – the very idea that the undeveloped mind is a tragedy and that the ability to think, critique, and enjoy the fruits of humankind and the universe around us are noble enough pursuits in their own right – are being whittled away. Death by a thousand CEOs-turned-university presidents.

It is an unnecessary, terrible, irredeemable waste of minds and money. But as long as black men put on helmets and commit entertaining acts of violence that people can watch at home and buy whatever comes on during the commercials, as long as young black men who are paid nothing and at times go to bed hungry while their coach makes millions of dollars and the university reaps the benefits of licensed sales of football paraphernalia, as long as the system runs smoothly and the right important people are making the money they were promised they’d make, then no protest about the fear of violence, of sickness, of the degradation of education will ever matter.

Football is business, and business is good.

This is a guest post by historian, writer and editor Whit Barringer. She was recently published in Fresh Meat Journal. She can found on twitter @adamantfire or on her official website, onedivinemachine.com.