We Shan't Overcome


This week's massive rallies by illegal immigrants and their sympathizers might not hinder the passage of a friendly reform bill. (More important: Whether Rove thinks Jenna can win in 2020 without the Hispanic vote.) But there's sound speculation that the size and shape of the rallies moved public sympathy away from the protestors and into the jaws of Lou Dobbs. Fox News regulary broke into programming with "Alerts!" about Hispanic students taking over streets and shutting down schools. Anti-immigration hawks like Michelle Malkin chased down stories of protestors hoisting Mexican flags over upside-down Old Glories. Mickey Kaus summed it up:

Skipping school to block freeways and flying the U.S. flag upside down under the Mexican flag … Those anti-anti-immigrant student protesters in L.A. know how to win over a majority of ordinary voters!

What good can protests really do in a sophisticated media age? Decades ago, a protest would inspire photos in newspapers and some clips in network broadcasts. Unless some Yippie-style violence broke out, the protestors had a fair shot at getting their message through the media filters. That might not be possible anymore. Bloggers and filmmakers (ie, anyone with video equipment) can pick apart the rallies and assail individual messages or speakers. A particularly outrageous sign can get picked up by a few big-time websites or a bored news network, and the jig is up.

If the "bring your own signs" ethos of protestors could be stamped out, these things might have a chance. As The Believer's Marc Herman noted in a critique of anti-Iraq war protests, 1960s civil rights protests succeeded because "Southern church and civil rights groups planning the event told their people where to go, how to look and what to say." But what's more likely: Activists sticking to a script, or bloggers and TV cameras shredding their message like a stack of bills?