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The Face of Protest is A Changin'

The critical issue to emerge from this weekend is not medical ethics, but the failure of the US anti-War movement to focus public attention on the fear, death and suffering caused by President Bush's foreign policy. There are two reasons for this failure: control of the media by political forces that support the Evangelical agenda, and refusal of the US progressive movement to move beyond the protest style of the 1960s anti-war movement. As a result, the new face of protest in America has shifted from anti-war to religious militancy.
<i>To read and comment on the complete analysis, please visit <a href=" http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/21/14289/8783">Daily Kos</a>.</i>

The big story of the weekend should have been the massive anti-war march that took place simultaneously in dozens of cities around the nation and the world, involving hundreds of thousands of people. That should have dominated the front pages of America's newspapers.

Instead, a few well organized and politically connected religious militants managed to elbow the anti-war movement out of America's kitchen table conversations. As of today, Americans continue to be assaulted by the ongoing debate over the long-term healthcare decisions of one woman in Florida. As of 9am Monday morning, it was as if the anti-war movement didn't even exist.

<b>The Face of Protest</b>

The dramatic success of the religious militants to seize the protest headlines brings to the surface a disturbing question: Are progressives no longer the face of protest in America?

It seems that they are not.

This weekend's news coverage was plastered with images of religious militants in Florida with red tape across their mouths, the word "LIFE" scrawled on it. These images, may of them of young women, are disturbing on many levels, offensive, annoying--they are many things, but they are also memorable.

What about the images from the anti-war protest? Anything memorable there?


This weekend's anti-war protest was pretty much like all the others. Lots of people some famous, most anonymous. It doesn't seem that the protest movement was very organized at all. No real effort was made to dominate the news. No single image was promoted by a centralized PR wing of the protest. Just lots of people coming together in opposition to the war.

Now, to question the primacy of anti-war protests in the progressive movement in America is pretty much heresy. It's dangerous to suggest that anti-war protests should no longer play a central role in progressive politics--at least not as they exist now. But that is what needs to happen. Progressive politics are no longer served well by large anti-war protests. This is not to suggest in any way that the protests should end. But they should not be staged with the expectation that they will have any impact whatsoever on politics.

Anti-war protests have become consumer events in progressive politics. They are no longer the driving engine of protest politics as they once were in the 1960s and 1970s. The sooner progressives realize that the mantle of protest politics has been usurped by religious militants, the faster progressives will regain their initiative and reinvent an inspiring, progressive approach to political protest.

<b>Protest Economics First, Then War</b>

Not all progressive approaches to protest are out of date. Here is one example of an inspired approach to progressive politics that stormed the front pages during the RNC in New York City, last summer, held the headlines and left a lasting impression:

The so-called "<a href=" http://jeffrey-feldman.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/pinkslipthumb.jpg">Pink Slip Protest</a>" was an inspired progressive protest organized by People for the American Way. The concept was to have thousands of people standing evenly spaced, holding pink unemployment slips up in the air, along the entire stretch of road that was travelled by RNC delegates from their hotels to the convention center. The protest lasted about minutes in New York and was also staged in other cities.

Walking along the streets during this protest was an amazing experience. Thousands of people stood silently holding up a piece of paper, evenly spaced at about 15 feet apart. There were no drums, no loud music, no shouting. It was a completely different protest aesthetic than I have ever seen before. And it was effective--both emotionally and politically. The protest garnered a great deal of political attention and momentum for issues important to the progressive movement.

Did the protest end unemployment in America? No.

Did the protest defeat George W. Bush in the election? No.

But it was still a very important change in protest politics for several reasons.

First, it was a progressive protest focused on economic issues rather than against a war. This is a very vital, very courageous shift on the part of PAW.
In progressive circles, anti-war protests are top dog. Protests on economic policy are a distant second.

But if progressives in this country want to be the face of protest again, then they better start following the example of PAW's pink slip demonstration. They better start protesting economic policy first, then foreign policy.

The second important change was the dramatic emphasis on design.

There was a time when packing hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the National Mall was the be-all-end-all of a political movement. Those days are over. In the age of 24-hour cable media, it is far more effective to think of a protest in terms of one person's picture reproduced a million times in the media, then to think of a protest in terms of a picture of one million people shown only once in the media.

That's exactly what the Pink Slip demonstration did so effectively: give the media a real human face, a person holding up a pink piece of paper. It was memorable, reproducible, and had a lasting impact.

Third big change to protest politics introduced by the Pink Slip Demostration was that it stood still in one place. It wasn't a march.

In New York City, there is a protest March for just about everything under the sun. Just about every time I turn around, there's a protest march somewhere. But what are they marching for? Where are they marching to? It's never clear.

If 20th-Century protests needed to march someplace to be effective, 21st-Century protests need to stand still to achieve their desired impact.

The genius of the Pink slip Demonstration was that it used the motion of regular car traffic as part of the staging of the protest. The impact of the protest was achieved when the cars drove by, and it could not be avoided. When there's a march that shuts down city streets, it's only those who choose to attend who get the picture, and that tends to be people who are in the protest.

<b>The Need for A New Era of Progressive Protest</b>

These three changes seem to be crucial to the new era of progressive politics:

1. Protest Economics first, then foreign policy.

2. Stage a protest that uses the motion of the viewer, rather than a march.

3. Think in images of individuals, rather than photos of faceless crowds.

Of course, the religious militants in this country have not become good protesters by following these three changes. They have made the primacy of religious law over American law their top priority. That approach has been highly effective for American religious militants in recent years much the same way that it was highly effective for Iranian religious militants in the 1970s.

But the religious militants have been effective at supplying the media with memorable images of individual protesters, and they have been effective at using the motion of the viewer for strong effect.

So, the time has come for progressives to ask some hard questions and to think seriously about whether or not the old-school anti-war march is still the demonstration of choice.

homepage: homepage: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/21/14289/8783

An example 21.Mar.2005 20:16


An example of varied protest placement:

In Vancouver, WA, the daily newspaper, The Columbian, put the Vancouver for Peace freeway overpass bannering on the front page of an INSIDE section. The next day, the meth clinic location protest was placed on THE front page. The clinic people had more protesters, but this exemplifies the media's placement of religious zealots or the ignorant over peace in importance.

S 21.Mar.2005 21:26


The old school anti-war march is so dead.

The ol bait and switch. 21.Mar.2005 22:45

Red neck

"old school anti-war march is so dead'? Yo, Yo, Yo, no they're not...
But liberal groups like MoveOn and 'United for Peace and Justice' want them dead. UFPJ game plan mapped out at their recent convention in St.Louis is to Lobby (I kid you not) Congress and hold small,scattered,protest...The Fayetteville protest was as brilliant as the G8 holding its summit on Sea Island, Georgia---what protesters? I don't see any? - Do you? Where's the next massive protest planed for--Boloxi Mississippi?
People for the Amerikan Way? Please don't make me laugh.

hmm... 21.Mar.2005 23:46


your examples of (more) successful actions were not "old school anti-war march[es]"

bullshit 22.Mar.2005 01:02

red suspenders


During the RNC in New York there was a march of over half a million people. The wide street was packed with demonstraters for over six hours. It was front page news all over the country, including here in the Oregonion.

If we'd stop just preaching to the choir and feeling good about ourselves, raise some real money and do some real advertising I bet 1 out of ten in the Portland area would show up. thats 100,000. Numbers matter, and having a huge show of force in the street matters.

Not dead 22.Mar.2005 01:17

George Bender

Anything that demonstrates public opposition to the war, including marches, is valid. There is no magic technique. You just have to keep it up, as we did during the Vietnam war, for years, until the war stops. It's the slow steady movement of the polls against the war that does it, and the polls, from what I've read lately, are moving.

You can't say that protest doesn't work because it doesn't suddenly stop a war. Wars are like ocean liners, they take a long time to stop.

If anything has "killed" peace marches, as Nader pointed out recently, it was the long absence of marches during the election -- because the liberals didn't want to bring up the war while they were trying to elect a warmonger. Marches need to keep getting larger to be effective. The organizers lost their momentum. We'll just have to get it back.

well 22.Mar.2005 02:40


first, you need public opposition
then, you demonstrate it
otherwise, you demonstrate that you don't have public opposition

probably, I think, it is a good idea
to go out and chat up the public
face to face
one on one, or small groups
until enough oppose, that we have something to demonstrate

hey hey ... ho ho 22.Mar.2005 02:50

this looks just like a grateful dead show

In the '60s the establishment was afraid of a revolution. Black people voting in places where they were a majority WAS a revolution. The current establishment has proven it doesn't give a fuck about big marches and rallies. The media will only cover them if they're sympathetic or on the fence or if the events are so disruptive that the ruling class needs to be informed its control is slipping. In the '60s the establishment and the protesters both thought that big demos meant that the Man's control was slipping. They were both wrong. Now the establishment knows better. Time for the protesters to get a clue as well.

just in case 22.Mar.2005 02:51

anybody's forgotten,

what ended the Vietnam War was the Viet Cong kicked our ass.

Corporate media buildings 22.Mar.2005 09:46

the new sites of protests

Until that corporate media is forced to inform as it should, the public will continue to ignore the protests. THree hundred million people in the States yet the marches do not grow any bigger...why?
THE MEDIA is the devil keeping the angels at bay. Why not put a wrench in their right wing propaganda machine by stagging massive protests across the country in front of their buildings? Marching in front of the White House is over...let's go where the devils work!

Marches were just part of it 22.Mar.2005 11:51

Felix the Rat

The marches were just part of the zeitgeist that helped end the Vietnam War. The war was instrumental is coalescing the counter-culture that had been around since the Korean War. Maynard G. Krebs and his bongoing goateed buddies had been bitching about the "system" for over a decade. A lost generation, born between WWII and Vietnam, were semi radicalized a la' Kerouac & Ginsberg. The Vietnam phenom came along at exactly the right generational moment. All those millions of baby boomers were primed for radical reprogramming as soon as they realized they could be drafted. That is today's missing ingredient. Selective Service. But the Man understands all of this, and there may never be another draft. Why? Because a new generation of orbiting space weapons is being deployed as we type. These platforms can deliver massive firepower anywhere on earth within 2 hours. This is the true future envisioned by our keepers. Robot Armies in space and on the streets. The draft was the greatest influence on anti-war sentiment. But the counter-culture itself, the music, films, books, magazines, clothes, hair, etc. ALL were completely foreign to the average American of the day. It was like a secret code among the young and unwilling. Soon enough the corporations broke that code and started exploiting it all as "The Youth Market". Dylan gave way to the Partridge Family and Easy Rider morphed into C.H.I.P.S. There is no way one can compare this era to the sixties. It's a whole different ballgame. The marches went on forever over the years, but didn't really make a huge impact until they mobbed D.C. itself so overwhelmingly that all the media had to take notice in a big way. Then there were the Pentagon Papers. Don't forget how huge that was. The mass media really deserves our attention these days, since they do the heavy lifting for the powers that be. Back then, the media still had a little integrity left. Now it's been taken over by Liars, Whores and Demonic Bastards. Wolf Blitzer is an ugly little man among many. It's a new paradigm today. They didn't squeeze Dan Rather and Brokaw out of the picture by accident you know. We need some REALLY creative ways to impress an awakening public as to the godawful situation the USA and the rest of the world is getting into. Our biggest enemy back then was violence. We protested it bigtime, and when we slipped up it was because we adopted it as a tactic to end violence. At least we have the internet today. We could have really had some fun with the web back in'68.

Great comments here 22.Mar.2005 18:44


Especially when Red Suspenders points to the RNC protest last year!

BTW-- I don't think that "what ended the Vietnam War was the Viet Cong kicked our ass" is exactly accurate. The Vietnam War finally ended with the fall of Saigon which occurred soon after the day that news sources reported B-52 crews refusing assignments to bomb over Vietnam (from the U.S. airbases in Thailand). The reason for that refusal (actually a mutiny) was that the Soviets had provided the North with SAM's that worked. But, you have to ask, would the B-52 flights have been refused if there had not been a successful anti-war movement back home in the U.S.A.???

Remember, too, that the B-52 crews were all professional and none draftee.

Let's Get Creative and Effective with Protests 22.Mar.2005 20:28


We need to be thinking of different ways to get our ideas out there. Anything with theatre is good. Visuals are important. I love the idea above of staging demos right at media buildings.

One idea is to have small demos all over the city at major intersections and to leaflet and talk to passersby about what the war is costing them, what they are not getting as a result. I think a lot of people would enjoy seeing Billionaires for Bush and get the idea pretty quick. We need to be visible and out where huge volumes of traffic are moving with signs and theatre.

I find it sad that many demos are held in out of the way places. For example last year a huge amount of effort went into making a ribbon for each name and a reading of names of the dead by Code Pink. Sadly, it was at waterfront park hidden behind some construction and no one saw it.

Other demos were held in the Park Blocks on a Sunday where few people are. Still another was in the street, but the route didn't go through the central area. It is almost as if they were trying to hide from the public.

We can think of a million ways to get our ideas out there.

Let's Get Creative and Effective 23.Mar.2005 02:45


Protests don't seem to be either.

Otherwise, I think you are looking in the right direction.

Labour unions call it organizing. Party-political junkies call it canvassing. There is a group around here who call it city repair.

Depending where you live, you might start by organizing your neighbours to plant some flowers in a bit of wasteland. Opportunity to talk about composting and the price of carrots. And why they are trucked from Mexico.

Do you have a union? Some unions offer courses on organizing, running meetings, standing up to bosses, and such.

starts out good 24.Mar.2005 04:57

and then wimps out

> Why not put a wrench in their right wing propaganda machine by staging
> massive protests across the country [ _____ ] their buildings?

Which of the following is capable of "putting a wrench in [a] propaganda machine"?

(1) "in front of"
(2) "inside"
(3) "after demolishing"

Fill in the blank.