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Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Feel-Good or Do-Good Politics

A few recent developments have again highlighted a tension in left politics. One is the public shaming of Trump administration officials, calling them out in venues like restaurants, a tactic encouraged by at least one Democratic congresswoman. Another is a never-say-die mobilization against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, a campaign that is supremely unlikely to succeed and would, if it did, simply lead to someone else at least as conservative being appointed. A third are calls to abolish ICE, the agency that has been deporting the undocumented, an event about as likely to happen in the near future as the Congress abolishing Trump golf courses.

mai 68

So, what is the point of calling for such bootless initiatives? Mainly, it appears, it is to energize people, to join them together in righteous and exciting solidarity, to declare their indignation and moral purity. And what about actually getting something done? Not so much.

Left activists have done this before, declaiming outrage, while right activists have more quietly but effectively advanced by focusing on what matters: votes. Some on the left have learned this lesson, as new grass-root groups have flipped Republican-held districts, but others are still stuck in the “Occupy” mind set.

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At this writing, the future of the national movement in response to police shootings of unarmed black men is unclear. It could fizzle much like the Occupy movement did (see earlier posts here and here), or it could be more lasting.

Protests here in Berkeley and the greater Bay Area have gotten a lot of attention, not because shootings are common– although Oscar Grant was killed about six years ago – but because a strong cadre of largely non-black anarchists (ironically, one set is called the Black Bloc) repeatedly hijack all sorts of protests and climax them by smashing stores, lighting fires, and blocking highways. Needless to say, terrifying store clerks and keeping people from getting to work on time are not likely to engender sympathy for a cause. Indeed, any left movement that alienates Berkeley citizens is not going to find many allies.

Recently, black community efforts have changed the dynamic some. In Berkeley, for example, a black church and its allies held a brief, peaceful “die-in” on a major street. They succeeded by alerting the police but keeping the planning secret from the anarchists. We are also seeing a few, modest concessions by police departments here and there. Still, the tactical struggle over who represents this protest and who will lead it continues. More broadly, its strategic goals and strategies remain to be defined.

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It appears that Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the protesters clogging up the downtowns of Turkish cities who are agitating against him agree on something. Erdogan recently decried “a menace that is called Twitter . . . . The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Meanwhile, many of the protesters also see the social media as having unlocked the forces of popular uprising. (Notice the women on each side of the flag-carrier in the picture.)

Everywhere we read and hear the claim that smartphones and social media have ushered in a new era of protest and revolution, enabling people to mobilize crowds locally and to arouse the discontented in other cities and even other countries. This theme was common during the Occupy chatter, too. History, just about everyone says, has turned a (virtual) corner.

People, let’s get a grip – and I don’t mean on your smartphone; I mean on history.

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Occupy! Now What?

One can sympathize with the central message of the Occupy movement that economic inequality and injustice have gone too far (a message recently reaffirmed by the Congressional Budget Office’s report on inequality, the Census Bureau’s new report on poverty, and the Justice Department’s criminal complaints against financial operators) and still have the foreboding that things will not turn out well.

Paul Stein/Flikr

Street protest movements rarely turn out well. In recent American history, it seems that if protest movements have had any political consequences of note, they have undermined their purposes probably more often than advanced them. The ones that have celebrated victory have had strong organization, discipline, defined goals, and a clear strategy to attain those goals – all features seemingly lacking in Occupy.

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