Oliver Willis

Stop Protesting

This is how the current formula works out in the minds of the left:

1.Identify problem or issue
2.Organize protest, march from point A to B and garner media coverage for opposition or support of said issue
3.Visible opposition leads to the problem or issue being solved, thanks to a groundswell of popular support

Theres a problem with this equation. As currently executed it does not work. Think about it: the Bush administration has been able to push the Iraq war, CAFTA, the Energy Bill, the Bankruptcy Bill and numerous other bits of law and legislation that undermine Americas place in the world. Most, if not all, of these pieces of legislation have been the subject of protests dissenting Americans getting off of their duffs and out into the proverbial streets to make their voices heard, and yet nothing.

One diagnosis says that such protests are given short shrift in the media, or that our politicians just ignore the dissent because the money from lobbyists speaks much louder. There are some truths to these reasons, but that just isnt it. Protest isnt working, and while it played a role in ending the Vietnam war its efficacy has been wildly overstated.

I can hear it already, the civil rights movement surely proves what Im saying is wrong, right? No. First, the civil rights movement was unique in that it was not a specific policy or bill that needed defeating, but rather an entire earthquake sized realignment of the concept of society that had to be addressed. The issue of equality literally touched the lives of each and every American citizen in a real way every single day of their lives it is very rare that any issue is that big of a deal, even issues of war. But the civil rights movement has imparted an important lesson to us that progressives would do well to repeat mantra-like, over and over.

Its the message, stupid.
Its the message, stupid.
Its the message, stupid.

Successful social actions have the advantage of being easy to roll of the tongue. Civil rights marchers demanded that all men be created equal. Yes, they had various issues some people were more concerned with getting decent wages than being considered equal citizens but the message from the protesters were simple: I Am A Man.

Thats whats wrong with protests. Everyone brings their pet cause to the protest. If youre holding a media event to talk about the Iraq War, talk about the Iraq War. Save the harangue about gender equity and social justice (WTF is social justice besides a slogan anyway?) and give concrete talking points about why youre doing what youre doing.

Yet, it is the very concept of protesting that I find ridiculous. It is patently absurd to slam people for not leaving their jobs in the middle of the day to go and wave a placard that wont change anything. The media, and the public at large, are not interested in your protest and it wont change their minds. It is quite a cost-inefficient way to preach to the existing choir.

I hear from progressives all the time that I should turn of the tv or turn off the radio . Yet, these folks are also the ones often prescribing the most ineffective solutions to the movements goals. As the sky is blue, we live in a media world that means broadcast, satellite, and terrestrial television; traditional and satellite radio; as well as print and the Internet. If you are not waging war for the attention of the American citizenry on all of these fronts you are conceding defeat. Modern protest isnt about placards and folk songs, it is about media saturation and manipulation.

Even for groups that get some of the equation, it is no good if you dont combine the two. Give up on the silly moral indignation and begin to understand that Madison Avenue is teaching us usable skills. Get into the media, and once you get there have a quick message and repeat it until the cows come home. Dont ever say an issue is too complex, because they never are. Deal with the time and space limits afforded you and make lemonade out of lemons.

Some may still argue that protesting works, pointing to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. While the protesters did dramatically take to the streets, they did so in a coordinated fashion. They wore one color (orange) in solidarity, and stuck to the message at hand: the elections have been rigged and we wont accept the results. Everything else rolled from that. Still, for most American political issues, protesting in the street will do more to harm than help, whereas developing a semi-competent strategy of using the media will position your issue in peoples minds ideally causing them to become reliable seeders of your position with friends and neighbors.