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Does peaceful protest really matter?

Many people today are feeling powerless and frustrated, in the face of the overwhelming political war machine that has coopted our government, as well as the governments of most industrial nations. The question is often asked, "what good does it do, to stand around in a group, or to march down the street carrying banners and signs?" Being a lazy man, of a somewhat regimented background, I too have wondered at times. For what it is worth, I have found a few answers in my sixty plus years, and will try to articulate them for anyone who cares to share:
First, my background. I was raised in a protestant Christian home, the son of a Catholic Father, Baptist Mother. I am an agnostic at best, an athiest more likely. I find it very difficult to believe that the God I was taught to worship (a God of love and peace) would allow the travesty to continue. I cannot believe that even ONE Iraqi, Lebanese, or (fill in the ethnicity here____) child would be allowed to suffer the torturous deaths that are being meted out every day in the middle east by agents of the one true god (again, you pick which god that might be).
I have digressed too far. Having said all this, my original point was that there are several very strong religious factions that are currently wreaking havoc on the innocent, in the name of whoever they percieve to be the almighty. The same almighty that most of those factions claim wants nothing but peace. How ever did these factions ever come into power, sieze the awsome military might that they are currently wielding? Simple. BY WORD OF MOUTH, and later, the WRITTEN WORD.

Prosthetizing does work, and work well, as witnessed by the fact that Christianity, Buddism, Islam, Judaism, ad infinitum, are alive, well, and driving some of the most horrendous acts ever perpetrated upon humanity, and upon the planet. "Bearing witness" is what we Baptists called it, and it was the most important calling (after the tithe). That is because, by spreading the word, the power of the multitude can be focused upon the issues that are directed by the propagators of this or that cause.

Wars are over when the people say that they are over. They are never "won," they are just over, until the next politician needs a cause to ride in upon, or the next charismatic maniac launches another purge. My point, cleverly hidden in the text, is that we do make a difference, when we just take a stand, make our stand public, and attempt to inform the unwashed masses of the truth as we see it. It is therefore our duty to do so.

I am sure that the detractors had plenty of criticism of Ghandi, many suggesting that he was powerless against the might of the British Empire, the mightiest empire on earth at the time. Apathy is the anathema of action, and a tool of those who would rule us by default.

I remember Martin Luther King being daily scoriated in my circle, as a lunatic, who is just shovelling sand against the tide. Can anyone really say that he did not make a difference? You may suggest that there is still racial inequality (there is), or injustice (yep), but MUCH has changed, due to the actions of what at first was a very insignificant act, in Selma. Who really cared where a single black woman sat on the bus?

As long as we remain apathetic, refuse to educate those who are being trained by the corporate media, we are a part of the system. When we reject apathy, speak out, yes, evangelize, we can make changes. Small at first, but very real changes.

I know that there are many out there who will disagree, and that is your right, but I would beg you to desist in your attempts to discourage me, or the thousands of others, who feel that it is their duty to stand against the machine.
Agreement w/a twist 20.Aug.2006 15:19


I was reading a book on Lyme disease that emphasized that, since the condition has not yet been universally cured, and has been resisted for a relatively short (known by Western culture) time, ALL treatments are experimental.

I feel the same way about oppression.

I do not blame anyone's choice of tactic, and at the same time reserve my right to feel unhappy about how I perceive the "side effects" of someone else's tactic affecting me.

I also believe that people- including myself- who like a tactic and dislike another tend to have double standards and incomplete reasons for their choice.

Nonviolence is expected, by advocates for other routes, to win almost instantly (relatively speaking) when led by a global minority against millennia of momentum. If it fails to do that, people start calling for escalation - though armed revolution has never been an instant fix, either.

Likewise, nonviolence advocates can stray to condemning other tactics as counterproductive- as though they had access to a parallel universe where there was no Malcom X for MLK to interact with, and no Fidel Castro to contrast to OTPOR. If we had access to this universe, perhaps we could condemn, having seen how it all comes out differently. But- who knows? Perhaps we would also be humbled?

On my best days, I prefer to use my personal convictions to lead me to good questions about other people's experiences and perspectives. What seems to happen then is that we all learn...

yeah, let's discuss it again 20.Aug.2006 17:02


Oh great, let's all pile onto this thread and have the exact same discussion for the 50th time about whether protests are effective. Maybe, we could just search on words like "protest" and "rally" and "effectiveness" in the archives, since the conversation's all there anyway.

OR, maybe somebody could post a new idea that hasn't already been brought up dozens of times before on this newswire. Maybe, a new way to get a message to people around the controlled corp media, without protests, or how we're going to hold the major (complicit) media accountable. Something useful like that.

Those Who "Stand" Also Serve? 20.Aug.2006 17:18


And when does duty arrive to dismantle the machine?

. . . And not just smash it, but keep it smashed--as that duty apparently can never cease!

We need to talk about effective, even if painstakingly long, piecemeal, sporadic but relentless, opportunistic subversion beyond "standing against."

ok-let's 20.Aug.2006 18:47

Andu didwa

So, ok, let's discuss what YOU did, if you are so full of wonderful ideas about how to better our condition. Apparently you have the answers. I do not. I do know, as do most here, that so far, nothing has worked. No wars have ever actually been won, no victories, the so called revolutions end up in an even more repressed and totalitarian state. Even though our "own" revolution supposedly spawned democracy, it did nothing of the sort. It shifted the power from one rich and elite faction over there, to another, over here.

For my part, I do what I can, and as miniscule as that may be, I can sleep, knowing that I am not a part of the problem, even if only slightly a part of the solution. If I blow up a bus full of innocents on the porch of the White house, it may be a louder statement, but what have I said? That violence begets more violence, begets more violence, ad infinitum?

So, if you have better answers, let us hear them here. Let us HAVE your new ideas. No? then I will stick with the few that I have.

actions 20.Aug.2006 18:57


This discussion is close to my heart. It reminds me that we need to take care of each other. The following is something a friend sent me from the Midwest. It may sound a little corney, but it touches what concerns all of us...our vulnerability.


Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. When I arrived at 2:30 a m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, and then drive away.

But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. "Just a minute," answered a frail elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness.

"It's nothing," I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated."

"Oh, you're such a good boy," she said.

When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said. "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.

"I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don t have very long." I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

"What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, I'm tired. Let's go now"

We drove in silence to the address she had given me.

It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.

"Nothing," I said

"You have to make a living," she answered.

"There are other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

"You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said. "Thank you.

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.

Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift.. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk.

What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?

What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.


it's selfish 20.Aug.2006 19:38

fed up

bearing witness and other peacful protests do nothing. Its a masturbatory ritual that makes those participating feel like they've done something, while doing nothing for people experiencing the horrors of abuse and domination. How does sitting watching people die help those people? It doesn't. It sacrifices the individual for someones self purity. It's selfish and complict in the atrocities.

A NEW IDEA 20.Aug.2006 20:44

Dr. Erskine Rentbag

Here is a truly new idea:

What if we procured the services of some really smart computer engineer/scientist types to design a device which would jam nearby television signals AND substitute them with a message of peace and non-violence? These devices could be powered by small hand-cranked generators, or maybe use the waste heat from solar cookers for power. They would be cheap to operate and could thus be used in even the most impoverished places around the world.

These devices could be produced in mass quantities by urban collectives utilizing "junk" hardware salvaged from the waste bins outside of computer repair shops.

The only part of this plan that I haven't worked out is how to get these devices spread around the world. Perhaps they could be disguised as six packs of soda with the packaging designed to emulate the look of Coke or Pepsi. Or, MAYBE they could be designed to look EXACTLY like six packs of Coke or Pepsi so that special teams could trnsplant them directly into containers of Coke and/or Pepsi that are in preparation to be shipped around the world.

Remember the old Coke ads from the 70's? The ones where a bunch of groovy people with candles sang a song of peace about Coke: "I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony..." It would be like that except with a techno twist. We need to learn to work WITH technology, instead of against it!

There are LOTS of new ideas out there -- we just need to figure out what they are.


Dr. E.

when is it working when is it not? 20.Aug.2006 21:44

Purple Punk

Like the rest of us here, I don't know just what makes protests effective. However, the powers that be do depend upon the working class for their wealth. They get upset when they think that their comparative wealth gets threatened. Think back to Venezuela when there were huuuge rallies divided (as a general rule) along class lines. I've never seen so many financially well off people protest as when they thought they could stop Chavez from serving the majority. At the end of the day, the poor people far outnumbered them in the streets and in the country as a whole, and they were very vocal about supporting Chavez.

So what can be learned from this? Most people will not bother to protest if they don't think it will do any good. Most people will not bother to protest unless they believe in the cause. Most protests don't work unless they impact the intended parties or threaten, convincingly, to impact them. In the case of Chavez keeping power, the masses had his back. All the trouble-making by the "free press" (read: controlled by the oligarchy) didn't do the trick because of the support from the masses, but it did make the wealthy believe that they could do something and that's why they protested. For further learning, we can study Mexico and the ongoing protests regarding the most recent elections.

So is it effective to march around downtown with peace signs? If it convinces people to reject the advocates of war when it comes time to vote, then it's somewhat effective. I say "somewhat" because the Bush has stolen office twice now, but on the local level, it seems that voter disenfranchisement isn't quite as bad as in Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, etc. Will the oligarchy behave because of these protests? No. That will behave when it benefits them to behave.

Assuming that the oligarchy continues to steal elections, and to disregard the will of the people, and to use the press as an instrument of deception rather than fact-based presentation, how can we stop them? What types of protests might be effective?

d 21.Aug.2006 00:18


Doing things, small or big, that do not require permission from authority. People creating an indymedia webpage. It is not a protest as such, but it is an independent act outside the system of power.

Organizing neighborhood meetings to pass along information about what is really going on. Talking to neighbors when there is the chance. Planting seeds.

Protests with an objective. For example outside recruiting centers.

And most important through all these things - passion, faith in the possibility of change, steadfastness. The biggest crime committed against the people of this country, is the stealing of peoples belief that something better is possible. If we cannot see in our minds eye what it is we want to make manifest, and act for ourselves as if it is so, then we are far from making it real. That is our great loss as a people. That is what we have to rediscover. There is no action roadmap for everyone to follow. When the hearts of people are alive with potential, then the necessary tactic for a given circumstance will reveal itself in those hearts.

Thank you "a" 21.Aug.2006 08:34


Another suggestion: shop at thrift stores and curb your wants. That is pretty basic for this forum, but needs to be said again, I guess.

I appreciate your comments...especially about what we have lost and how we can rediscover it. That makes all the difference.

For Mirah 21.Aug.2006 08:40

Tearful Reader

That was a wonderful story. You have touched my heart and I will never forget it. Thank you.

My two cents 21.Aug.2006 11:05

Jody Paulson

First off, thank you Mirah for that beautiful story. I read somewhere that, in the spiritual sense, what happens to us here is relatively insignificant -- it's what we *do* here that counts.

Addressing what Purple Punk said, yeah ... let's look at the protests in Mexico right now. These are the types of protests that scare the powers that be, because they actually have a goal rather than raising awareness. As I've said before on this site, one person holding a sign can pretty much raise just as much awareness about an issue as 10,000 people holding signs, when the media chooses to ignore those 10,000 people. But look at Mexico, look at the "Battle of Seattle". The goal there was to shut things down. Mexico city was basically shut down. Protesters in Seattle blocked the WTO from meeting. Protesters in Oakland stopped the dockworkers from shipping out weapons  http://www.internationalist.org/oaklandcopsshoot0403.html . You know the effective protests because that's when they take the gloves off.

Protests for raising awareness are largely ignored, and though they are good for networking, it would be just as effective for many people, on their own initiative, to hand out flyers on a street corner.

It's never safe to take direct action. Neither, however, is it safe to just sit there and watch our freedoms wither up and die. I'm probably going to get in trouble for this, but you know what I'd like to stop? The propaganda sleep machine and privatized voting machines. They had a guy on subbing for the Randi Rhodes radio show the other day ... I think his name was Lazarus or something. Anyway, he spoke about how, of all the things that belong to the public trust or commons (like parks, libraries, etc.), as a democracy, our vote was the most important because that's how we make decisions regarding everything else. And here we've gone and privatized the vote! Everything is being privatized these days, our prisons, the military ... but to privatize our voting system with no oversight, no transparency?! Blah blah blah ... well, we need to do what we can, but we need to be willing to accept the consequences for everything we do. I think violence is counterproductive, and I don't want to hurt anybody. On the other hand, I can't of good conscience just stand around and let this country go to hell.

Always a good topic, 'Rosa Parks.' I know it's contraversial, but it's one we should be thinking about these days.

Violence and Non-Violence 21.Aug.2006 14:50


As an anti-authoritarian and de-centralist here is how I see it. 1) Self defense, by any means, is a human right and should be utilized. 2) Violent self defense is ethically permissible only in response to a direct violent attack. 3) Non violent revolution IS logically possible. Here is where some people get confused about "revolutionary violence" Logically speaking society CAN be non-violently shut down if the vast majority of people decide to do so. If 250,000,000 people in the United States stopped going to work for 1 month there would be no more United States. If the ruling class took violent action to force these folks back to work, to pay rent, ect., then violent defense is ethically permissible. This also works on the micro scale such as small communities or regions uniting to secede from the United States and set up autonomous zones. If a peaceful community is violently attacked by the government it has seceded from, then violent self defense of said community is ethically permissible. A perfect example is the Zapatista's in Mexico. The problem with "violence begetting violence" is a game of numbers. If a "revolutionary vanguard" of say 200,000 cadre spread in armed cells across the country were to violently overtake the federal government this would be inherently authoritarian and would more than likely set the stage for an eventual "failed revolution" of which history has shown us so many. This would be an instance in which the use of violence would both be un-ethical, authoritarian and counter productive. Unfortunately, this was the model of "revolution" that was popular in the 20th century. Many such "revolutions" took place. We are no better off globally for most (if any) of them. These "revolutions" were products of the ideology of dialectical materialism, whether or not they were specifically marxist or not. More generally, they were the products of the utilitarian, scientific materialist mindset. Political decentralization to the greatest extent possible and the re-emergence of a bio-regional and eco-centric tribal mentality will lay the foundations for the revolutions of the 21st century. Hope these thoughts help out. Tiamat

"violence" and violence 21.Aug.2006 15:38

ow ow it hurts

> If 250,000,000 people in the United States stopped going to work for 1 month there
> would be no more United States. If the ruling class took violent action to force these
> folks back to work, to pay rent, ect., then violent defense is ethically permissible.

First of all, from  http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm :

> Both total employment (144.3 million) and the employment-population ratio (63.0 percent) were essentially
> unchanged in July. The labor force participation rate held at 66.2 percent. (See table A-1.)

so there are only actually 140 million working people in the U.S. in the first place.

But the point is, 140 million people aren't going to spontaneously do anything at the same time. If you try to organize 140 million people to non-violently stop going to work at the same time, which for example the IWW has been diligently trying to do for about the last 100 years, you find that the establishment drowns you out with nonsense and propaganda and nobody pays attention to you. If you non-violently try to compete effectively with the propaganda machine by setting up your own 100,000 watt TV station, they come and shut it down because you don't have a license, and if you don't let them they shoot you. Actually I don't know if anybody has actually tried this, but this is what everybody expects. If you actually somehow scraped the money together and bought a license, and there were enough of you to start multiple anti-corporate TV stations so you could really compete on the dial, and you seemed to be effective, then they would raise the licensing fees to stop you. The current cost structure is not there by accident. Look at all the empty channels -- why is that?

There are other forms of violence besides sticking a gun in your face to make you afraid. Sticking bullshit in your face to make you stupid is just as bad.

by ALL means 21.Aug.2006 17:07

P. Greene

1) Bypass the IRS and Congress; redirect your federal taxes to organizations that nurture life.

2) Go to (even organize) rallies etc, but when the rally's over, DO SOMETHING besides feel good about going to a rally. Positive action really is the antidote to despair (and to a certain extent, cynicism).

3) Urge your representative to cosonsor HR3621, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund (www.peacetaxfund.org) ( you can thank Peter DeFazio for cosponsoring it already).

4) If you think changing the nation and the crazies who run it is difficult - try changing your own heart! Now that's really a job!

Political decentralization is a pleasant fantasy 21.Aug.2006 23:05


I wish such a thing could happen. Someday it will. Maybe a hundred or a thousand years from now, when oppressors have been dethroned. But now? today? The political and social psychology of humans is largely dictated by the corporate media, public education, etc - all arms of the state.

Tiamat, Marxists share your goal. marxists and anarchists all want the same thing; a just, stateless society. But how to get there is how people differ.

You treat all authority as a single negative thing. What of the authority of love or friendship? These are authorities which cannot be denied. Self-defense agaainst a vastly more powerful oppressive organization - how does a decentralist propose to handle that?

Are prisoners in the US or victims of US foreign policy supposed to wait for Americans to make lifestyle changes? Should we not have a revolution because so many other revolutions have been destroyed by assholes from without and within?

There is a vast moral difference between violence that oppresses and violence that destroys oppression. A hammer can destroy or create - it's merely a tool to use.

"The reasonable man [sic] adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. [sic]" -- George Bernard Shaw

Sadly, nonviolent activism relies on the state rather than dismantles it. Nonviolent action relies on the state actually having a conscious, which it does not.