Focus, People, Focus!

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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5 Responses

  1. Interesting piece, Freddie. The thing is, the entire point of a protest – any protest – is to convince people that you’re worth agreeing with on a particular issue. With so many of these protests, at least the ones I observed (I obviously don’t know about the protests with which you were involved), it wasn’t clear what they were trying to convince us to do. It wasn’t just an anti-war protest, or just an anti-World Bank protest, or for that matter just a pro-war protest; they always lacked any kind of focus whatsoever, demanding that observers not only adopt the nominal position for which the protest officially advocated, but also that they adopt all sorts of other positions. The idea that many/most people who were persuadable might have good-faith reasons for thinking that Mumia Abu-Jamal is a murderer, or that Communism is not really a good idea, etc. doesn’t seem to have crossed their minds. There was just this assumption, as Dorf identifies, that if you agreed or might agree with them on the Iraq issue, that you had to agree with them on all these other issues. That in and of itself makes people think twice about agreeing with you on the main issue, and thrice about being outspoken in that agreement.

    And again – I don’t think this is solely the province of liberal protests; indeed, I don’t doubt that many of the “Tea Parties” also included various pro-life banners and/or t-shirts, and I recall that the anti-terrorism protest I mentioned above also included a speech from one GOP congressman that ranted about the 2nd Amendment (or something equally irrelevant to the issue).

    The point is- if you want a protest to be effective, you have to keep it focused enough that people will: 1. know why you’re protesting in the first place; and 2. feel comfortable agreeing with you on that issue without necessarily agreeing to your entire worldview.Report

  2. One other point – this doesn’t mean that you keep quiet about all your other issues. It just means that you protest those issues separately.Report

  3. Bob says:

    Mark, in the body of your post you say, “Since the whole goal of activism is to get your issues into the public eye, activists have a tendency to wind up representing everyone who agrees with them on one issue or another.”

    In your response to Freddie you say, “The thing is, the entire point of a protest – any protest – is to convince people that you’re worth agreeing with on a particular issue.”

    I think you are more correct with your first characterization, at least the words before the comma.

    Converting the opposition, bringing in the undecided, to particular cause is great, but as you say, “…the whole goal of activism is to get your issues into the public eye….” I think a big part of activism is just letting the like minded know that they have support. That is the first step. Later, if the cause has merit, say Civil Rights Movement, conversions will come.

    One last comment, it seems unfair to blame any particular group for a PETA supporter showing up at their pro-life rally.Report

  4. Mark says:

    “I often encounter people who share my generally liberal/left views on some issues and therefore assume that I must also share their views on everything.”

    I lived in Berkeley for two years and then the Mission (District) in San Francisco for eight years, so I feel like I’m up-to-speed on inconsistent belief systems and incomprehensible protests. My all-time favorite was a post-9/11 rally in Dolores Park that featured the following two comments by speakers at the mic: 1) “People are saying that Islam is bad. Well, Islam invented the number zero. Without Islam, we’d have no computers.” and 2) [in reference to weapons testing in Vieques] “On behalf of all the Latina Lesbians, I say ‘Bomb the Pentagon’.”

    If I can draw a broad generalization, the glaring inconsistencies in protestors’ world views originate in a general ignorance of the details and history of their cause beyond a bland presumption of Western white guilt. (Or, to put it bluntly, as I’ve seen all too often in San Francisco, it’s easier to oppose self-determination for Israel if you think all Jews are the rich AEPi kids from college.) Interestingly, one thing that the far lefties share with the far righties is paternalism – they both know what’s right for others.

    Another thing you see on the far left at least is a deep impracticality resulting from never having had any power. If you look at legitimate Socialist governments or politicians in North America, you see incredible compromise: Bernie Sanders is popular because he gets things done, not because he attends the Socialist International. Successful Socialist governments or politicians in Canada (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, to some extent B.C., and Ed Broadbent) have succeeded for similar reasons – economic growth and major policy achievements – not adherence to rigid doctrine. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has 7 of 11 members to the left of a mayor who introduced free health care and gay marriage, yet its members form necessary alliances with builder’s associations and the like to actually govern the city. But protestors? Not so much – they are so far from making a difference (a pardon for Leonard Peltier?) that they can adhere to whatever unrealistic ideology they feel like.Report