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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.”

Photos (top to bottom) by Flickr users kathy doucette, lil’ el, and kathy doucette under Creative Commons license.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Just sit quietly James and observe the Tea Party protests. Then sit by and watch the protests when B.H. tries to ban guns, make union membership manditory, and starts denying health care to the elderly. When 10 million armed citizens march on Washington, you will understand the power of protest.

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  2. Michael says:

    When 10 million armed citizens march on Washington, you will understand the power of protest.

    When they’re armed, we don’t call it a protest anymore.

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  3. Bithead says:

    Just sit quietly James and observe the Tea Party protests. Then sit by and watch the protests when B.H. tries to ban guns, make union membership manditory, and starts denying health care to the elderly. When 10 million armed citizens march on Washington, you will understand the power of protest.

    10 million? Maybe.. MAYBE one million. Not for lack of support, but first, as I’ve said at home, prtests, much less full on rebellion is unheard of among conservatives. Secondly, at that level, bring in an A-10… just one, mind you… and the whole thing’s over.

    But I wonder, James, if the change of source for the sound isn’t enough to attract some attention.

    I suggest the biggest move to get the federal goverment out of the role of ruler and back to it’s constitutional role as a servant? The individual states. I’ve sat of late, and watched the States invoking the tenth amendment. As of this writing, 11 have done so, and more are moving that direction. More than this, even the more liberal state high courts are starting to side with the states as well. Consider the Vermont case we saw on the wire yesterday. I don’t fully know, but it’s starting to look like these battles will be fought state by state. Is this in response to the pressure of the anger, the pressure of these protests? I think it is.

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  4. Steve Plunk says:

    I thought the purpose of protests was to be annoying? You annoy everyone to the point where they must pay attention to your grievances. Isn’t that how the radical environmentalists pushed their agenda?

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  5. Michael says:

    I thought the purpose of protests was to be annoying? You annoy everyone to the point where they must pay attention to your grievances. Isn’t that how the radical environmentalists pushed their agenda?

    The purpose of protests is to get attention for your cause. Annoying people is merely the lazy way of doing that.

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  6. [...] gives a firsthand report from the Chicago “Tea Party” demonstration. I think I share James Joyner’s view of these: of themselves they don’t mean much. However, if some sort of political organization emerges [...]

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