Protests don’t work. Whatever their efficacy was in past eras, it is spent. We all witnessed the largest coordinated protests in world history in the lead-up to the Iraq War, and the Iraq War not only happened but is still happening, under the watch of a president whose grass-roots support stemmed largely from his uncanny luck in not yet being in the Senate when the vote to authorize the Iraq War took place.
Today, there is a massive, coordinated protest march, complete with a hashtag and corporate sponsors. I don’t see the value of this aside from its role as a ritual observance. I don’t begrudge anyone their liturgy, to be sure. But I keep the Sabbath by staying at home. At least when I sweep my floors and clean the bathroom on Sunday morning, I produce some kind of tangible positive result. To each his own!
If the standard is making a difference on climate change, I’m failing just as much as the protest marchers. The fact that “at least I know it” doesn’t make any difference either way — not only in terms of effectiveness, but also in terms of distinguishing me from the marchers themselves, many of whom probably know that they won’t make a difference. We’re all in on the joke. The protest is incorporated into our public liturgy, our civil religion.
If we get all the right permits and don’t get in the way too much, hopefully the police won’t brutalize us while we exercise our sacred right to protest — though for some, the police brutality is part of the sacramental effect. Line up and get arrested! The strategy of martyrdom worked once, in an entirely different political and media landscape and in coordination with a disciplined political strategy that is absolutely and completely lacking in the present day… so it’ll work again!
If we suffer enough, they’ll relent. Except they never do. We live in a world where there are crowdfunding campaigns to support an incompetent and abusive police officer who murdered a teenager in cold blood. We live in a world where the rhetoric of non-violence has been irrevocably weaponized to delegitimate the oppressed and normalize the callous violence of the powerful. Line up and get arrested!
Is writing this post better than going to the protests? No. Is there something salutary or helpful about holding the correct cynical opinions? No. Am I doing anyone any good by writing this? Well, everyone needs to vent every once in a while. Some keep the Sabbath going to the protest — I keep it, blogging at home.
That the politicians in Washington will put the politics aside and seek the public good, we pray to the big Other. Public opinion, hear our prayer.
That our elected representatives will embrace common-sense solutions to minimize the damage of global warming without hurting economic growth, we pray to the big Other. Public opinion, hear our prayer.
That an informed electorate, replete with marketable skills, will show up at the polls in November and vote the right way, we pray to the big Other. Public opinion, hear our prayer.
That we can somehow figure out a way to keep this shitshow running a little bit longer, we pray to the big Other. Public opinion, hear our prayer.
Let us pray: public opinion, you have blessed us with the means to express ourselves while interacting with our favorite brands. Aid and guide us, your loyal working families, as we seek smart solutions that enhance shareholder value in this, the greatest country on earth. Amen.