Protests Don’t Work
Brian Knapp has a good roundup of critiques of protest rallies and concludes that they have outlived their usefulness.
Another problem with public protests is that fact that they are generally annoying. Protests, rallies, and other outdoor events that are organized to accommodate large swaths of people also must accommodate their bathroom breaks. They also tend to eat up civic resources with an additional police presence, trash pickup, and the occasional cleanup of graffiti or fixing of broken windows. Then, there are traffic congestion issues and the impedance of free travel by uninterested parties. This is all besides the fact that passers by often are subject to ridicule, humiliation and intimidation.
All of this is easily avoided with the new digital media revolution. Where large mainstream media networks once held a monopoly on what people learned of and became aware to, individuals have a much easier time sharing ideas and commenting quickly and quite effectively now with the advent of blogs, tweeting, text messaging, social networking sites and email.
That’s quite right.
Protests reached their zenith during the civil rights movement of the 1960s when a group of literally disenfranchised people were able to demonstrate their grievance in a very visible way. People dressed in their Sunday best quietly marched, listened to speeches, and questioned why the country wasn’t living up to its creed that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Their dignity contrasted with the brutality with which they were sometimes met and shocked the nation’s conscience.
Eventually, though, this device was expropriated for niche causes and by more radical elements. They became a nuisance and, sometimes, violent. Mostly, though, they were silly and generally attended by the usual suspects, who would show up to protest whatever.
Now that I’m working in downtown DC, I find them even more inane since they’re so ever-present. Some gaggle of folks are within earshot of my 11th floor office at least once a week, banging drums, blocking sidewalks, and protesting somethingoranother. Usually some sort of “unfair” labor practice, I think, but I’m never sure.
These protests remind me of car alarms, which still produce noise but no longer get people’s attention. Now, when one sounds, most of us think, “Will somebody turn that damn thing off!” rather than “Somebody’s car is being stolen.”