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I Protest! Public Benefit, or Personal Agenda?

By Alf Gordon(13,356)

Posted Thursday, April 10, 2008
View All Blog Posts submitted by Alf Gordon

I just missed the protests and revolution of the 1960s.  (Yeah, I know, it's killing me.)  By the time I was aware enough to know that there were other things going on in the world outside my little microcosm, protesting was done, hippies were passe, and disco was in.  (Like I said, it's killing me...!)  However, I never really felt the need to rant against the Establishment for perceived wrongs against either my fellow man or me.  I was too busy trying to finish school, move on to college, and establish my own life--that and the fact that my parents would have killed me had I ended up on the nightly news and/or in jail.

So maybe that's why I don't understand the recent wave of protesting that's been going locally.  On three different occasions in the past four months I've had to walk around and/or through groups of protesters.  Because they were so wound up with their shouting and their waving of banners, I never really did get to find out what the issues were.  And they were so agitated they couldn't take the time to stop and answer a few questions.   But I'm going to ask my questions anyway, and maybe somebody out there who's protested can clue in me and my readers.

Why are you protesting?  Is this an issue that threatens your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country, or the world?  Is it a pet project that is near and dear to your heart that you feel isn't getting enough media attention?  Or is it about something that you and a small minority want and you think this is the easiest way to get it, by being a vocal and obnoxious squeaky wheel?

Why do you think protesting will be effective in initiating change?  Will it call attention to the plight of the people, or will it turn off those outside the protest, causing them to ignore you and your cause?  Will you use the protest to present facts supporting your side in a calm and reasonable manner, or will you shout useless sound bytes that the media will broadcast all over the news and that tell the average person absolutely nothing about your purpose?

Have you exhausted all your other options?  Have you tried the legal routes?  Contacted your elected officials?  Utilized the local media to educate the community?  Raised local and national awareness?  Talked to and gained the support of prominent individuals who can help further your cause?  Or are you grabbing everybody you can, throwing a placard or sign in their hands, and using a bullhorn to teach them mindless cheers that they can shout repeatedly and that mean nothing?

How do you find the time to do all this protesting?  Are you independently wealthy so you can afford to galavant all over the countryside, attending rallies and organizing protests?  Are you taking time off from work and losing valuable pay to help people understand the issue that you believe is vitally important?  Are you unemployed and living off the sweat of the taxpayer's brow, and this is your way of finding cheap entertainment?  Or are you being paid by some activist to hold a sign and chant a phrase?

If it sounds like I'm against protests, I'm not.  It's just that as an average American citizen who has to work his butt off to keep his job and support his family while keeping things like the tax man and rising consumer costs at bay, I don't see the effectiveness of today's protests.  If I knew how the process worked, and if I could see productive results that benefitted both the protesters and the community, maybe I'd feel differently.  As it is, all I see is a bully pulpit where people scream and yell and throw temper tantrums until they get what they want without having to pay for it.  And the causes are ones that I'm not sure great protesters like Martin Luther, or Martin Luther King Jr. would be able to get behind and support.

So, anyone who's involved in protesting today want to take a stab at answering a few questions for me?  Anyone?

This Blog Post has been read 244 times.
Posted to ProBlogs.com on Thursday, April 10, 2008
View other posts by Alf Gordon

Comments on this blog post:

Ian Trumbull from Portland Maine: (51 days 20 hours ago.)
I think it's rather simple really. A lot of protests are just a way for people to blow off steam. When things enrage people (and something enrages all of us from time to time), people need a way to vent that anger. Waving a placard and shouting a slogan does that for many people.
It also often gives people a sense of community knowing that other people are just as mad/upset about something as they are, and thus serves as a validation of those feelings.
Sure, legal action may be more productive, but it doesn't give people the outlet they need to release how they feel on the same level as a good strong protest. Not to mention, that fact that often people are aware of these other options but feel they will be futile.
Just my opinion...

Jack from Boston: (51 days 17 hours ago.)
Never Underestimate the true effectiveness of a "bully pulpit". As you yourself said in your blog, often an exceptionally loud squeaky wheel can get itself a rather large amount of the proverbial grease.
I do however take exception to your claim that most (or all) modernprotests are not "worthy". It's that attitude of marginalization of issues that leads people to believe they need to protest, or as the comment above me has said, that more "traditional" channels of voicing displeasure will fall on deaf ears.

As for your question about how people find the time resources to protest, I think you do raise a valid question. In my personal experience, I've seen a mixture of the three situations you mention (and some others), but most of the people I've met during protests (and I've done my fair share) truly do care a great deal about the issue at stake.
One point about this that I would like to make though is that a large percentage of protesters (including myself) are young people. From your writing, it is obvious that you are an older individual who has relatively many responsibilities. I'm still young enough that I don't have kids, a mortgage etc. to worry about and my job as a retail wage monkey is hardly what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. My point being, I don't protest "for fun" Only on issues I feel VERY strongly about (War in Iraq, animal testing), BUT if I do lose out on wages etc. it's not as horrible a burden on me as someone with multiple responsibilities. If I was middle aged and had a spouse and kids and all the trappings, I'd moset certainly not protest anything (unless I felt it was a matter of life or death).
That said, I have never really flaked on my responsibilities to attend a protest or rally, it's what I do in my free time. Some people spend their weekends fishing, I spend mine voicing my concern over things that matter to me.
I do agree with you though that there are A LOT of stupid and/or violent protesters out there, whe generally make a#@es of themselves and hurt the cause for everyone else. I only ask that you look beyond these highly visible idiots and see that there are many of us who are merely trying to speak out in the best way we see how on things that matter to us.
Sorry this got so long, hope I provided some insight.

Comment by Alf Gordon(13,356) (51 days 11 hours ago.)
Ian, you make a good point. Could be that for some protesting is cathartic. Jack, thanks for sharing your insight as one on the other side. And by the way, there are a lot of stupid and/or violent non-protesters out there, too. So I guess that makes both sides even. :)

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