After living through the last five decades, I guess I've just become disillusioned about the power of street protests. Part of it is that I get irritated with the kind of unfocused, every-fringe-group aspect of them. Of course this is just part of the herding-cats aspect of the left, but yes, I do get tired of seeing "Free Mumia!" signs at every single protest about everything. And don't tell me white liberals don't care about black men on Death Row; witness the attention paid to the Troy Davis case. But when a protest is to try to stop a war, or to call attention to the way Wall Street is sucking what little the middle class has left into their own pockets after causing a near-collapse of the global economy and continuing to enrich themselves, after not one of them has gone to jail or even have to answer questions, the stakes are too high to turn it into an all-purpose litany of, OK, I'll say it, tired-sounding lefty slogans.
Yes, we still believe in ending sexism and racism, and we hate corporatism and fascism and greed, and we still oppose the death penalty. But when a half million of us marched in 2002 to try to stop a war that WE knew was based on lies, it wasn't about racism, sexism, OR the death penalty. It was a cry for recognition by the American people that we were being lied to and THEIR children would be the ones to die. When thousands of people march against a war, or gather on Wall Street and in cities across the country, to provide a counter-voice to the right-wing meme that the wealthy are being persecuted by lazy unemployed people, I just want these protests to focus on that and keep the puppets and the peripheral issue signs out of it, and to be able to talk about what the protest is about without using the words "corporatism" and "greed" and "revolution" and instead cite the many concrete examples that are right out there for the having of how the guys in those buildings have screwed Americans seven ways to Sunday. Yes, you need short, succinct talking points. And yes, I use "corporatism" as a blog tag. But I'm largely preaching to the converted here; I'm not out there sleeping in a park and trying to get the attention of people who roll their eyes at things like this:
I know that this method of communicating is because the protesters are not allowed to have microphones. And my old lefty heart still soars when I watch the passion and the idealism of these people, but at the same time it depresses me, because I hear a lot of buzzwords of the left in what these people are saying and I know that you could plaster this all over every television station in the country and the people in the red states who are blaming immigrants and gays and the black man in the White House would tune it right out. The word "Revolution" spoken by people in Hoverounds, or by guys with NRA hats, is not a threatening word to them. That word spoken by someone who is Black, or Latino, or who looks like what John Cole described yesterday as
.. a bunch of trustafarian nitwits who should be braiding hair and drinking wheat beer in the parking lot of a Phish concert, weaving in a few bong hits and a couple games of hacky-sack. We’re just making it too easy for Wall Street and the money boys if this collection of motley fools is the opposition. It’s so fucking depressing.
...just isn't going to resonate with the guy who lost his manufacturing job three years ago, the bank is foreclosing on his house, and he's blaming Mexicans.
I don't know what the answer is. I keep thinking back to the image of the 1960 lunch counter sit ins. This is Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, after leaving the first lunch counter sit-in, in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960:
They are wearing suits and ties and tailored overcoats.
Here are demonstrators at the March on Washington, in August 1963:
They are wearing suits and dresses and look as if they are coming back from church.
I can't say for certain that the suits and ties and dresses made the world pay attention, but when the anti-war marches of the 1960's have caused conservative America and the media to regard anyone marching against injustice as dirty fucking hippies, images of what often looks like an attempt to relive the original Woodstock festival, and still doesn't seem to have a clear message and a clear goal, make it hard to see this as working.
I hope I'm wrong.
UPDATE: Go read this post at Reddit. (via Tom in the comments).