Don't Wanna March No More

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Martin Kuz at the SF (San Francisco) Weekly asks an important question: Hey, do all of these left-wing protests ever solve anything? Ever? Colorful re-creations of the Bay Area's insane anti-everything marches are coupled with analysis of why said marches are so damn ineffective.

Some political analysts and longtime activists contend the dizzying number of rallies harms progressive efforts by fracturing public support amid a glut of competing interests. With more groups jostling for media attention, voters can grow weary of the scrum, as evinced by the meager turnout for last month's primary elections, slowing the pace of policy reform.

Kuz is no right-wing shill (note his reference to "President Bush's murky election victories"), either. A less sympathetic observer (like, I dunno, me) might see the analysis of hundreds/thousands of San Franciscans spinning themselves into obsolescense and say "at least they're not getting anything done." Someone needs to follow this up with a report on the city's endless, meaningless council resolutions.

NEXT: Move It Or Lose It

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  1. I funking hate protest politics. There are 300 million people in this country. Name any idea or cause no matter how batshit insane and you can probably get a few thousand people who are angry enough about it to have a march. Add that to the people who show up at these things because they have better to do and the people who show up at them to yell at fireplugs and viola you have protest. If the protest is for a politcally correct enough cause, the media will cover it to death and tell the world how thousands are in the streets over this or that issue. Who cares? God I wish they would go away.

  2. “longtime activists contend the dizzying number of rallies”

    Some people just never move beyond high school.

    The soul of the Democratic Party is a misinformed adolescent.

  3. Even the best funded of them are ineffectual, if scary nonetheless. I’m thinking here of Million Moms vs. NRA.

  4. Protestors are almost part of the cultural/social scene in some places. The university campus where I went to grad school was a fun place to walk around during lunch time. With all of the various banners and booths with literature and activists wearing weird shirts, it was just kind of a neat show to watch. You don’t have to agree with them to enjoy the spectacle of lots of people having fun proclaiming, um, whatever it is that they were proclaiming. It’s just sort of a cool scenery, is all. Especially when the activist scenery is right alongside dudes carrying surfboards, dudes on unicycles, people selling weird homemade art, and all sorts of other stuff.

    They may not change the world, but at least they make it a little more interesting.

  5. It is fascinating to me that the people who get the most agitated about certain issues seem to know the least about them. Who knows less about international trade than WTO protestors? What happened to all those people anyway? I thought international trade was the worst thing on Earth. Is it all better now?

    Anyway, about protesters not knowing what they are protesting:

    Is it because formal protests are disproportionately appealing to dullards?

    Is it that a little information ignites passions that more information tends to quell?

  6. Two words Jason Ligon “Acid Rain”. Remember how in the 1980s acid rain was going to kill all of the fish in the Northeast and destroy every bridge and public sculpture in America? Gee none of that seemed to have happened. No one seems to care about Acid rain anymore. The attention span of protest politics is about that of a three year old, which is appropriate when you consider that is also the level of intellectual discourse.

  7. The typical protest is an expression of political powerlessness. Seems to me that whoever is in political power would get a lot more nervous if they saw the same people out circulating petitions or walking precincts for their opponents.

    On the other hand, the few protests where they have managed to get average-looking people out there, protesting the Vietnam War or whatever, do have impact.

  8. Protests and other demonstrations are essentially an attempt to leverage motivation into intimidation. You put your highly motivated followers into a barely controlled mob and have them walk around shouting and waving signs.

    Obviously, they aren’t there to persuade anyone with reason and evidence. So what are they for? What possibly purpose could a bunch of people roaming the streets yelling and waving things have, if not intimidation?

    Of course, a few dozen aging hippies aren’t very intimidating, so no wonder the steam has gone out of protest politics in this country.

    Thank God.

  9. Remember how in the 1980s acid rain was going to kill all of the fish in the Northeast and destroy every bridge and public sculpture in America? Gee none of that seemed to have happened.

    Gee, ya think maybe that’s because the protests led to those neat changes in EPA policies. You know…the ones requiring scrubbers on the plants causing the acid rain in the first place – thus reducing (and in most cases eliminating) the problem?

  10. “Hey, do all of these left-wing protests ever solve anything? Ever?”

    If there was even a slim probability of success, don’t you think we’d see right-wing protests as well?

  11. Upon further reflection, the only right-wing protests I can think of are run by the Pro-Life crowd, and we all know how incredibly successful they’ve been.

  12. “Acid Rain”

    Extremely bad example, John. You’re really on a roll today what with the incoherent rant about Jimmy Carter and appeasing communists on the other thread.

    Yes, I’m sure that acid rain was the invention of some clueless joiners in street protests. I’m sure that all of the scrubbers and political awareness of the issue and emissions trading had nothing to do with alleviating the problem. Put the asshat back on John. You’re not really missing anything.

  13. Yes and no MADPAD. The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments did reduce Acid Rain, but did not eliminate it. Further, environmentalists railed against the 1990 amendments for not doing enough to stop acid rain. The truth was that acid rain, while a problem, was not near the problem it was made out to be and the 1990 amendments did more than enough to solve the problem. But go tell that to the activists and protesters in 1990.

  14. Hey fuckoff Pinko. Go back and read the national assessment on acid participation done in the mid 1990s. It concluded that the acid rain threat while a threat to a few lakes and public statues was not the threat it was made out to be in the 1980s. The 1990 CAA Amendments if anything went too far. None of the doomsday predictions ever came true.

    You picked the wrong topic. Unlike you, I know a little bit more about the subject than the myths the media feeds me. I have forgotten more about the subject than you know. Take your asshat and stick it up your ass.

  15. One more thing, John. Just because in your intellectual universe, which seems to be a pretty bleak and lifeless place (that muffled sound in the distance might be Limbaugh repeats and that blue hearthlight a Hannity diatribe on the tv) doesn’t mean that everyone else is braindead and things aren’t happening. So yes, John, acid rain seems to have existed. And yes, John, the gubmint (gasp?) seems to have done something about it. And yes, a type of protesting elan among the populace (I know, they must have been people without jobs) probably spurred the government into action.

    Acid rain is just the sort of issue that you shouldn’t have brought up. It crossed state and national jurisdictions; that is, anyone downwind of industry suffered, even when blessed property lines were clearly delineated.

    Surely you can find some more effective arguments out there.

  16. I believe usually one of the stated goals of an organized protest is to “raise awareness” of an issue or problem. It’s an attempt to get a particular topic exposure and attention so it becomes something that is discussed on a wider basis.

    When hundreds of thousands across the country participated in rallies in favor of illegal immigrant’s rights, it may not have changed the minds of many who are anti-immigrant but it became impossible to ignore that there are many in this country who sympathize with immigrants, and it got people talking about the issue in the national press, etc.

  17. Bah. Protests have become boring, practically corporate-sponsored events. Wake me up when we’re having Gandhi-level protests with, say, ten million people in one place. That would be impressive. Especially if they all chanted the same words over and over again.

    What does a libertarian protest look like? I remember the one where they dumped all of the tea in that harbor, but what about in modern times?

    Now that I think about it, we’re due for a good taxpayer revolt. I was at a CLE seminar on corporate formation recently where the Florida Documentary Stamp tax was discussed. It made me think of how a somewhat similar tax–the Stamp Act–made us batshit crazy back in colonial times. Now we just pay and go about our business. What wussies we’ve become ๐Ÿ™

  18. “In Vietnam…at some points were losing more people in one day than we’ve lost in Iraq in 3 years.”

    I am not sure that is correct. When did we lose 2,500 men in one day? 20 days like that would add up to the entire war dead. Even D-day was “only” 4,900.

  19. sam:

    I think your numbers are high.

    Total Allied casualties on D-Day are estimated at 10,000, including 2500 dead. British casualties on D-Day have been estimated at approximately 2700. The Canadians lost 946 casualties. The US forces lost 6603 men. Note that the casualty figures for smaller units do not always add up to equal these overall figures exactly, however (this simply reflects the problems of obtaining accurate casualty statistics).

    6603 casualties * 1 dead/4 wounded = ~1600 dead.

  20. I am not sure that is correct. When did we lose 2,500 men in one day? 20 days like that would add up to the entire war dead. Even D-day was “only” 4,900.

    You’re correct, sam…inadvertant hyperbole on my part. The highest loss of U.S. life for a year was over 14,000 in 1968. Breaks down to a daily rate of less than 40 per day.

    I’m sorry for overstating the numbers as my intuitive math sense was on the fritz. Rebooted and it’s working fine now.

  21. John,

    It’s something of a truism that protesters will overstate a problem and are invariably unsatisfied with whatever is done to solve it. That doesn’t mean that something shouldn’t be done. Personally, I’m satisfied with the acid rain resolution.

    I don’t care much about spotted owls and snail darters so clear the brush and build those dams…dammit. But air and water quality are serious and hit closer to home. There’s often some legs to the arguments behind protesters actions when it comes to those issues.

    In any case, environmental protesters are a particularly hard-to-please group. But placate enough of them and the group will whittle itself down to a handful of inneffectual cranks…why, just like the folks we’re talking about. As long as they don’t go Hayaduke and start blowing stuff up, we can tolerate ’em.

    For the record, politicians and pundits of every stripe are masters at overstating any particular problem so I wouldn’t single out protesters on that accord.

  22. I think polling has replaced protesting.

    Before the rise of quasi-accurate polling, it was very hard for politicians to gauge public support for any particular issue short of an actual election. Protest functioned something like poll with the people bothering to show up serving as a kind of proxy for the general population. Experience taught politicians how to extrapolate from protest size to support in the general population.

    The rise of TV also killed functional protesting. In the late 60’s, protest started to be less and less about how many people showed up and more and more about how much airtime the people who did show got. Protesting became not about demonstrating support but rather creating support through the illusion of TV. Now days, it is not at all unusual for a protest with only a couple of dozen participants to make it on the national news if conditions are right.

    When I was in college in the late 80’s, protest had clearly become a social activity kinda like the secular Leftist equivalent of a Church social except with more drugs and sex. Frankly, I really resented dragging my ass out to a protest after working all night only to see the majority of participants treat it like a singles bar.

  23. Say, considering protests and the earlier deserter thread, has the U.S. ever experienced a major mutiny in its armed services? I’m probably just having a senior moment, but I can’t think of one. Let’s just exclude the whole Civil War from this discussion, by the way. That’s not the kind of thing that I’m talking about.

  24. As others have said the protests these days seem to be by hippies trying to recapture their yuoth leading youths trying to recapture a feeling of a bygone golden age. Reminds me of folks in the 70s who still went to Elvis concerts.

    The only semi spontaneous protest I was ever sucked into and which grew at a surprising rate was a protest against banning kegs and beer balls at SUNY Albany in favor of just bottle and cans.

    When I got out of class it was about 300 people shouting “Beer balls bounce, bottle break”. A couple of hours later when we stormed the admin building and a guy climbed three stories up the side of the building to look in the Dean’s office it had grown to at least 2000 students.

    Ahh, the early 80s!

  25. “Remember how in the 1980s acid rain was going to kill all of the fish in the Northeast and destroy every bridge and public sculpture in America? Gee none of that seemed to have happened.”

    Thanks to cap-and-trade.

  26. Of course, maybe Americans have become turned off to protests because the corporate news media has a habit of portraying protestors as lunatics and ignoring the more serious demonstrations (huge anti-war protests on the eve of Iraq invasion) in favor of the more trival (PETA protestor in cage sort of thing).

  27. Jason Ligon,

    Today, most of the free trade agreements signed by the US and Europe include subsections on workers’ rights, environmental protection, and other issues that were highlighted in the anti-WTO protests. Prior to Seattle, they didn’t.

    Sort of like John’s acid rain example – the federal government adopted significant changes to the Clear Air Act that restricted emissions of SO2 and NOx, two acid rain precursors, and acidity levels in lakes throughout the Northeast have declined considerably.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but the reason that large protests about those issues have largely stopped is because the issues have been largely dealt with, via legislation, which became popular and passed in the protests’ aftermath.

  28. “Say, considering protests and the earlier deserter thread, has the U.S. ever experienced a major mutiny in its armed services?”

    The Civil War

  29. Ahem. To reiterate: “Let’s just exclude the whole Civil War from this discussion, by the way. That’s not the kind of thing that I’m talking about.”

  30. I was wondering why the horse named “John’s Acid Raid Argument” wasn’t moving as I flogged it…

    “What possibly purpose could a bunch of people roaming the streets yelling and waving things have, if not intimidation?”

    buk buk buk buk ba-CAWK!!! Yes, RC, I remember you wetting your pants when large numbers of Hispanic people held peaceful demonstrations in opposition to Congress’s immigration bill. That was pretty funny.

    But in answer to your question, how about “raising the issue’s visibility,” “getting people talking about it,” or “demonstrating that an opposition of significant size and motivation exists?”

  31. Pro Lib,

    The veterans’ protest on the National Mall in the 1930s (the one in which MacArthur used tanks and fire against peaceful American veterans, in contravention of his orders) comes kinda sorta close.

  32. It occurs to me that, even if John was correct on the facts in the case of Acid Rain, that he only undermines his point about protests.

    If there really was no acid raid problem, and if the Clean Air Act amendments and EPA regs did nothing to solve the non-problem, that means that the completely useless, wholly irrelevant protests by the smelly hippies turned an issue that was wholly without any evidentiary support into a national issue which resulted in major legislation in Congress, the creation of an entirely new strategy for reducing pollution (emissions trading), serious redesigns and renovations of hundreds, if not thousands, of power plants and industrial facilities.

    Not bad for a strategy that is entirely incapable of effecting any change on our government or culture.

  33. joe, at least you cite an example that isn’t the Civil War ๐Ÿ™‚ I was thinking more along the lines of active duty personnel, though I had forgotten about that one. I’m surprised that MacArthur didn’t ask for permission to nuke the Mall, despite the nonexistence of nukes at that time.

  34. Pro Liberate,

    The last acknowledge mutiny in the US military was The Port Chicago Mutiny in 1944. African-American sailors refused to work loading ammunition following a cataclysmic explosion that killed hundreds and destroyed Port Chicago, a navel base in California. 50 sailors were imprisoned on the charge of mutiny. Truman commuted their sentences after the war.

    Nothing since then qualifies as a mutiny. An individual cannot mutiny. To qualify as a mutiny, a refusal to follow orders must be a collective effort of two or more persons acting in concert.

  35. I have nothing useful to add, but I feel compelled to bring the World Naked Bike Ride 2006 to everyone’s attention.

  36. Thread! Thread! Speak to me!NOOOOOoooooooooooooooo!!!

    Mark, you BASTARD!

    ๐Ÿ˜‰

  37. “Today, most of the free trade agreements signed by the US and Europe include subsections on workers’ rights, environmental protection, and other issues that were highlighted in the anti-WTO protests. Prior to Seattle, they didn’t.”

    Is this true? How can we have factories in China or Indonesia? We swallowed Fair Trade somewhere and I didn’t notice?

  38. Were there actually protests over acid rain? It was a big issue in the 1980s, with all the environmental groups lobbying over it, but I don’t remember anti-war or pro-Mumia style street rallies.

    As for Vietnam, polls showed that the protests *cost* the protesters support.

    What some people miss is that protests are not about changing policy. Protests are about the protesters. The people who show up feel better about themselves for having done so. They’re Doing Something. They’re showing that They Care.

  39. “I have nothing useful to add, but I feel compelled to bring the World Naked Bike Ride 2006 to everyone’s attention.”

    You asshole.

  40. Really now! Can we regular posters have someone removed? Or at least prevented from linking to things that are offensive to persons of all sexes and persuasions? I know it when I see it, and THAT was obscene.

  41. ProL:

    okay okay. Sorry that you hate bicycles so much!

    ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. They were so greasy and unclean and inferiorly constructed–I, I, just couldn’t stand it! Oh, the velocipede!

  43. ๐Ÿ™‚

    at least you didn’t get into trouble when you tried making sweet love to a unicycle… (hint: it ended badly)

  44. Of course, maybe Americans have become turned off to protests because the corporate news media has a habit of portraying protestors as lunatics

    Maybe that’s because so many protestors are lunatics?

  45. There have been many mutinies in the Navy.

    I don’t have my books on hand, so I’m going from memory, but there were two mutinies in the Vietnam War alone:

    1) The USS Constellation had a race riot, and the black sailors, with the passive acquiescence of the Executive Officer took over a portion of the ship. The mutiny took several days to put down, and kept the ship in port for several days. Don’t remember what trigerred it, though.

    2) The USS Vance (I Think) wherein the officers mutinied against an insane Captain who both hazarded his ship by making it top-heavy with sandbags and had a habit of mustering the crew on the fantail and ordering them to listen to his protestant evangelical sermons (which lasted hours). That actually is an interesting case study of under what conditions a crew can mutiny and have their actions blessed post facto.

    There also was a case in the Korean War, wherein the Captain on a tender began acting very crazily. However, he voluntarily surrendered command to the XO after being confronted about his bizarre behavior. When they got in port he was hospitalized and had a sizeable tumor rumoved from his brain. I’m not sure if this technically counts as a mutiny though as it involved no violence or threats of violence.

    There have, I’m sure been other mutinies in the Army and Airforce, but I don’t know much of them.

  46. Jason Ligon,

    First of all, we don’t need free trade deals for American companies to set up shop in (or hire the contractors from) another country.

    Second, our free trade deal with China dates to before Seattle, and was one of the prime motivators for the protests.

  47. Most demonstrations are for the demonstrators themselves — pepping themselves up.

  48. Jesus, I agree with RC Dean. Once not too terribly long ago street protesters were almost invariably two steps away from being rioters at any given moment. There are a lot of reasons why this changed, increases in Civil Liberties and popular movements becoming victims of their own success chief among them in my opinion, but it remains true that protests no longer possess the threat of sudden, widespread violence that they once had. As this has decreased, so too have their power.

  49. Dan T-

    Yeah, I remember before the Iraq war, when all the media outlets covered were PETA protests. You mean to tell me there were protests against the war? I’m not sure about that, I certainly never heard of them. There were actually people who opposed the war? Wouldn’t there have been some sort of public commentary on this? Especially in an election year?

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