Ridiculing the Tea Party Protests
Steve Benen and Jesse Taylor both note that some people participating in the “Tea Party” protests are less than highly articulate spokesmen for the cause, with the former referring to “low-information voters” interviewed by CNN and the latter, well, apparently having gotten over being tired of obscenities.
Scott Payne is right that it’s unfair to criticize ordinary citizens frustrated with the system and having the gumption to do something about it for not having a fully formed alternative agenda. (It is, however, a fair criticism to make of intellectuals supporting said protests.) Indeed, regardless of the cause, there are as many motivations for supporting it — or, as is more frequently the case, opposing it — as there are protesters.
Max Borders collects some examples of mainstream media personalities ridiculing the protesters and reminds us of Saul Alinsky’s Rule for Radicals number 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”
The fact of the matter is that protesters are easy targets for ridicule. As Brian Moore points out, “no matter how persuasive a protest is, all it takes is one guy in the back with a performance art puppet show about some minorly related but irrelevant political topic, and the majority of Americans roll their eyes and shuffle nervously away.” And, frankly, it’s seldom just a handful of weirdos because “the ‘average’ person does not attend protests, tea parties, or advocacy marches because the average person has a job, friends and family to attend to.”
So who does that leave to be attracted to these protest? Right — precisely the people with those weirdo beliefs. And there’s not even some critical mass of weirdos — the maximum allowable number is zero, because you can damn well be sure that if the is protest big enough to draw media attention, they are going to zoom in on the weirdo signs first thing. And as professional opinion makers (pundits, talk shows, spokespeople) have become more and more prevalent, it skews things even further against the street protest. Which is more convincing, a guy in a clean cut suit on CNN with a fancy degree laying out a position, using fancy studies and fancy statistics, or the kid on the local news screaming excitedly into the camera, waving his sign? I’m not sure I know how you’d set things up to walk the fine line between weirdo exclusion and not seeming like a professional production.
We’ve moved beyond the civil rights marches, when people assembled wearing their Sunday finest to hear eloquent speeches and displayed quiet dignity while abuse was heaped upon them — thus demonstrating their humanity and winning converts to their cause.
But that’s why protests don’t work.
Photo by Flickr user skye820 under Creative Commons license.