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Constructive Criticism About Unorganized Protests (Peter Jennings, Feb 15)

An argument for minimal organization.
Some recent protests, and a discussion about whether or not protests should be "organized", have compelled me to post this mini diatribe.

see  http://portland.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=43571&group=webcast

Protests do not "just happen", people will not just show up, and actions are not effective without some minimal organization. There are some exceptions--but powerful spontaneous actions are almost always provoked by some outrageous activity (Rodney King, food shortages, your team losing the super bowl).

The almost pathetic turnout at the Peter Jennings protest tonight might be a good example of the weakness of one way of calling for an action--announcing it here. Indymedia is a wonderful form of media, but it is not a movement. It is not a way to organize something. Sure, actions should be announced here, but relying on this website as the main way to get the word out is wrong. Even planning an action here, where the discussion tends to veer off into the most polarized debate instantly is not appropriate. Indymedia is not a community, it's a website.

If you want to organize a protest, at least print up some flyers announcing your event, get the flyers out, maybe post them all over town. Get an email out to some good lists. Get some organizations with some members on board. Make sure there are at least a few people excited about this and inviting their friends and coworkers. Often, it makes sense to call a meeting. Get folks together to talk about it face to face, not online. A group of people agreeing on something makes it more powerful, and more democratic from the start.

I think there is a lot more to making cool stuff happen.

But I am worried that folks are getting too lazy, or too opposed to doing some of the grunt work behind the scenes to make cool stuff happen. The calls for a Feb. 15 action at the North Park Blocks worry me a little. Folks are saying that it doesn't need to be organized, that people should just show up and it will happen. Well, I for one, have been to too many shitty actions. I probably won't show up unless I feel like it will be effective. I don't think it needs to be super organized, with a tactical team, comms sytems, police liasions, etc. but it at least needs to be organized enough so that a decent crowd shows up. No disrespect to the good people who went to the Peter Jennings thing tonight, but it looked a little silly on TV. And I bet the four of five folks out there felt pretty silly, and did not look to convincing to the folks that saw them. As far as I know, this action was only announced here, not on any of the big peace email lists, or announced at any events, etc.

I would love for there to be a powerful, fun, radical action on the 15th. But it needs more than an Indymedia post.

From now on, I will want to know if actions have some of these minimal things in place:

--Has it been called by a group of people, or an organization with a membership, or is it one person's idea?

--Is it being announced anywhere besides on Indymedia?

--Is there a plan? and a point?

I expect to be denounced as an authoritarian, organzation-heavy, close minded, dinosaur, but that's OK. But if folks want to denounce these points, please address the points, not the author. And please back stuff up with concrete eveidence. I cannot think of any powerful, successful actions that did not have some of this minimal organizational stuff behind it. If you know of any, please say so.

Hope this helps.
Again it is meant as CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.
required title 10.Feb.2003 01:12

required name

well I originally planned to protest the Peter Jennings all by my self, and recently found out there was some sort of organized protest on Portland Indy media. I quickly contacted people on the board and got a ride. Even though I only saw 5-6 people, I thought it was a success. Having 100, 200, or 5,000 might have been more of a success, but at least there was a protest.

I am really concerned about communication of the feb15 protest. Word on the street is that there will be small protests staged around the city and in neighborhoods.. ???? and then "some people will show up in the park blocks". Meanwhile NYC will have an estimated 300k people.

I'm pretty sure at the minimum 5k will show up at the park blocks just from word of mouth. It would be great if there was an official press release I could refer too to spread the word, almost everyone I know who have never protested before who want to protest is asking me... and if we could put up flyers downtown starting TOMORROW to say this place at such a time. Maybe I'm totally out of the loop and this is already in place. Can somebody get on the phone and figure this out? I'm not a regular poster here...

I don't think this is the biggest problem right now. We're running out of time. In one week it might not matter how we organize this event that event, WWIII might already have started! What needs to happen is that we need to make people, who would normally never ever think about protesting, aware of just how corrupt our government and media really is.

If this means knocking on doors in the richest parts of Portland and talking to people face to face, then I'm for it.
We're running out of time....

Looks Like Salem's Got It Figured Out 10.Feb.2003 02:56

Goin South

My hat is off to everyone planning community actions this weekend. That said, on Saturday there is an opportunity to join what will most likely be millions of others accross the globe, rejecting the current war on democracy. For those that want to rally and march, I would like to recommend a convergence on the capital.

Anti-War March & Rally
1:30pm Saturday 15 February
Capitol Steps in Salem
Contact: Michelle Darr
Oregon PeaceWorks
(503) 585-2767



Largest Anti-War Protest in Decades in Salem
March begins at State Capitol & ends in Rally at Willamette Univ.


Seattle Too... 10.Feb.2003 09:31

PDX <to> SEA

Seattle has it figured out too:


Huge rally and march Saturday February 15th 2003 "Gather at the Seattle Center at 11:30 (Fisher Pavillion/Center Fountain), Rally at noon, March at 1pm to the Federal Building..."

I'm driving north (PDX to SEA is about 3 hours) and would encourage anyone else who feels Portland isn't quite on the bus with it's planning and wants to be part of a huge legal rally and march on Feb 15th to do the same.

Info toll-free 1-866-FEB-15TH

P.S. I have no problem with people taking to the north park blocks here (I think it's a great idea - Power to the People!). I just think some people may not feel comfortable with going and might be looking for something with large labor and religious group sponsorship.

YAY 10.Feb.2003 13:56

but can be anonymous

Lets waste shit loads of gas on protesting in other cities instead of trying to help organize something here. We'll drive 3 hours to protest the war on oil, that doesn't sound ironic at all. YOU FUCKING POSER

Word of mouth won't do it 10.Feb.2003 15:45


This is absurd: "I'm pretty sure at the minimum 5k will show up at the park blocks just from word of mouth."

What makes people think that word of mouth, and a post on Indymedia will make 5000 show up?

We are often lucky to get 500 people to show up with tons of outreach. I can't even think of a protest in recent history (besides the big peace marches) that had more than 2000 people.

Please, folks, if you want to see protests be successful, at least make some flyers and do more to get the word out.

My hopes for a good action at the park blocks are growing dimmer.

Let it Rain! - PDX 2/15 Action 10.Feb.2003 16:31


You can argue all day over what gets people out to rallies and marches. The fact of the matter is we all know the Noon Feb. 15 protest at the North Park Blocks is about the upcoming War. And how we want to raise our voices loudly against this shameful disgusting action by Shrub and his henchmen.

For whatever reason, the usual antiwar organizations have not scheduled anything on the streets downtown on this important day. Check out all the obvious Web sites about how there will be antiwar protests across the nation and the world that day. Obviously, we're not going to get the large crowds Portland has generated to date. But that is no reason to whine and bitch about the supposed lack of organization now.

Get real and get out there. Hell, I hope it rains. That way the only people who show will at least be there for the right reasons.

50?-500?-5,000? Who the hell cares. Jeesh, if all the people jawing about lack of planning would just be there, we'd have a good turnout. The time is now and the cause is right. See all you protestors downtown. This is gonna be great.

DIY 11.Feb.2003 01:15


I agree with some of your points - that actions do need to be announced somewhere besides Indymedia, and that there has to be some "grunt work" behind an action that you want a good turn out at. From what I heard at the Peter Jennings protest, there was talk about doing it at the Friday rally, and even some flyers passed out. Unfortunately, my work schedule doesn't permit me to be at the Friday rallies, but this is what I heard from someone who was there.

Which brings me to my first point: People who don't do the "proper planning" for a protest aren't necessarily "too lazy, or too opposed to doing some of the grunt work behind the scenes." Some of us are just EXTREMELY busy. Saving the world, as it were, is a full-time job in and of itself, and people like myself who work 40 hours a week (insert anti-capitalist comment here), sometimes just don't have enough time (or money) to print up a buttload of flyers and post them all over town. It's not that we're lazy; we just have A LOT of shit going on. Granted, I could have done more such as posting to listserves and such, but most of the people on my listserves read Indymedia anyway. Next time, though, I promise to try harder to get the word out. (The time factor was a constraint, too. I resolved to do this on Thursday, and his visit was Sunday - this isn't very much time to get the word out no matter how many people you have involved.)

It seems to me that attitudes such as, "I probably won't show up unless I feel like it will be effective," contribute to the lack of turnout at some events. I see what you are saying, but if everyone who thought that never showed up at protests, we wouldn't HAVE any protests. I was talking to a friend of mine about the possiblity of a Peter Jennings protest, and I was telling him that it would be strange if I was the only person there. "What kind of protest would that be?" I thought to myself. He then pointed out that sometimes a small group of people (especially even one or two) can make a big impact. And I agree. While having a lot of peole there would have been nice, just the fact that ANYONE was there says a lot. Can you imagine if Peter came to town and NO ONE was protesting? What the hell kind of message would THAT send? So, I resolved to go, even if I was the only one. In the process, hopefully I encouraged other people -- like "Dude," who posted a comment that he felt he should have been there -- to go next time.

I agree with your suggestions that protests should be announced places other than Indymedia, and there should be a point of some kind, but I disagree that they should be "called by a group of people, or an organization with a membership." Call me paranoid, (which I don't think you will now that we have PATRIOT ACT II), but I think the gov't. is going to start cracking down hardcore on dissident organizations. This will have one of three effects: either those organization will disappear completely, go underground, or hold only "permitted, planned marches." In which case, you'll find me underground, where actions won't be posted ANYWHERE, they will just be done (probably by a very small group of individuals). Just because an action is only "one person's idea" doesn't mean that it isn't completely worth it.

My last comment is - you had to have seen this one coming - if you don't like the fact that you've been to shitty protests, don't be lazy, and do some of the grunt work involved with making those actions a success (although I don't know you, and for all I know you are very active in getting the word out). I thank you for your criticism - you've brought up some good points - but please don't be the type who just sits back and waits for others to do the work for you. And that goes for everybody.