Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Symbolism and show, over substance

So much of our protest in America is symbolic. I’m sure it makes everyone feel good about themselves (myself included), but I question how effective any of it really is. Tomorrow’s “Not One Damn Dime Day!” comes to mind in discussions about symbolic protest, versus planned, sustainable and effective actions.

My thoughts on this subject and much of the “lifestyle” activism that is so fashionable, is prompted by the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and time spent considering how his work and life had such a lasting quality to it.

On Monday, Heather Gray’s provocative article at Counterpunch touched on the misconceptions about King’s role and legacy, as well as the methods that he employed in speaking to power in this country. As thoughtful writing so often does, Gray really made me sit up and take notice when she spoke to the matter of fighting injustice. With quotes like, “Nonviolent social change requires long, hard and sustained work, research, development of solutions, and, importantly, on-going commitment. It demands far more than bringing folks together to march and wave banners”, you know that you aren’t dealing with some liberal feel good, lets march up and down and sing “kumbaya” means of protest article.

Since the immoral and unjust war began in Iraq, I’ve marched in three different marches, attended countless rallies decrying George Bush and his administration of lies, as well as its attending security culture in the U.S. Nothing’s changed. Innocent men, women and children are still dying. We've seen the USAPA blanket dissent in this country with a palpable fear.

Once again, we are being told that if we don’t buy that Snickers candy bar, or put a tank of gas in our car, then magically, this theocratic demagogue that claims he’s our duly (dubiously?) elected leader, is going to reconsider his ways and have the troops home by this weekend.

I understand the concepts underlying the protest—that disabling our economy by withholding capital can make a difference and make our leaders take notice—it’s just that in order to do this, it will take weeks and months of capital starvation before anyone notices. One solitary day and $10 worth of purchases won’t bring down our consumer machine. Oh, I know—everyone will be able to pat themselves on the back—like we did when we voted in November, only to see many of our votes not counted, or thrown out. This after we were harangued and shamed by the "Anybody But Bush" nazis into voting for the empty suit ticket of Kerry/Edwards.

Based upon her research, Gray came up with the following methods that King used so effectively in his campaigns to bring about lasting social change. They were certainly effective enough to get him killed. From Gray’s article, here is a brief summary of those methods: (1) once the problem is identified it is essential to research the issue (i.e. define the problem, who are the key players, who or what is being affected) - the research and analysis should be above reproach as disputed or incorrect facts and figures can completely undermine the efforts for the evolving campaign; (2) based on the research, state clearly what needs to change to solve the problem and identify the strategy for solving the problem; (3) recruit others to join the struggle, share your findings and strategies, get their input if necessary, but essentially seek a commitment from them (i.e. this is the problem, this is what we intend to do, are you with us?) (4) teach them in nonviolent tactics (i.e. being non-confrontational during direct action); (5) attempt to resolve the problem through negotiations (i.e. negotiations with whoever controls the policies needing to be changed); (6) if that doesn't work, apply pressure through direct action techniques, which at times need to be sustained for a lengthy period (i.e. boycotts, mass demonstrations); (7) negotiate again, if necessary engage in direct action again - often more research is required or more clarity on the solutions needs to be developed; (8) finally, if the problem is solved, seek reconciliation.

I’m all for bringing down the empire and stopping this unjust war, I just don’t want to participate in any more “lifestyle” events that are symbolic versus substantive.

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