Gore Says Yes On Protests: Study Shows Effectiveness
"I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers," Mr. Gore said, "and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants."
Right-wingers jumped on Gore, claiming he wanted young people to be killed or harmed by bulldozers when Gore was simply making the point that peaceful protest is effective. In fact, a study released this summer showed that protest by social movements is one of the most effective ways to get Congress to pass laws favorable to that movement (pdf file).
Our government and corporate America would love nothing more than for us to buy their myths used to deter us from protesting. They say that protest is only used by a few extremist wackos who engage in violence. The truth is that if we unilaterally reject this effective political action, the "few" who will continue to use it will be our government and corporate America. The truth is that our police engage in more violence at protests than most protesters, except that violence is called legitimate. They say that protesters are the fringe elements of society. The truth is that photographs in a video below show that protests since the Iraq war commenced involved members of all ages from our families. They say that "normal channels" should be used in lieu of protest. The truth is that studies show that protests ---both during civil rights movement and now --- are more effective than traditional channels. One reason is that normal channels are biased in favor of the powerful and protesters generally champion causes of those not with power. Another reason is that our government (and Bush is a master here) engages in conduct that accomplishes the twin goals of weakening or destroying normal channels while also deterring Americans from engaging in political action. They say that normal channels are preferred over protest, which they claim is ineffective. Historical successes and empirical data show this claim to be false. A recent study shows that protest significantly increases the passage of laws favorable to the social movement. How many laws have been passed favorable to our causes based on our use of normal channels of campaigning, voting, LTE, blogging, etc? They say that protest is not beneficial. Bush knows this claim is false. He has squashed protest because it is a viable means for even a few to alert the public to issues not covered by the MSM, which is just one of the many benefits of protest.
This diary does not advocate that we stop using normal channels. It simply tries to show that we should not unilaterally reject protest as one of our tools to further our progressive goals.
The myth that protest is used by a minority of Americans.
This myth is used to narrow what is defined as protest in order to discourage progressives from using protest to effect change while permitting our government and corporate America to use protest, only when they protest, it is called exercising corporate or governmental prerogatives.
Protest occurs in many forms and by many different groups in society. Whether or not the activity is called a protest, and thus subject to derogatory characterizations and stereotypes, depends on who participates in the protest. If liberals engage in conduct to oppose a law or another group in society (such as employers), then it is called a protest. When corporate America engages in the same conduct, it is called exercising corporate prerogatives:
Dominant groups occasionally engage in struggles with each other, as in the case of elections, corporate takeovers and the medical profession's resistance to state regulation. The actions of these groups are not usually called protest, though. The term protest is applied to actions of groups that are painted as outside the mainstream. When trade unions go on strike that is recognised as a form of political protest--and often stigmatised--but when corporations redirect investments out of a particular area (a 'capital strike') that is taken to be a normal exercise of corporate prerogatives.
What about Bush's presidential prerogatives? Last month we learned that Bush supports political protest in the form of secret coups or political boycotts. As the Washington Post reported, Bush stated that widespread frustration may cause the people to replace the current Iraqi government:
"The fundamental question is: Will the government respond to the demands of the people?" Bush said. Stopping short of directly endorsing Maliki, as he has on several previous occasions, Bush continued, "If the government doesn't respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government."
So, Bush believes that the people in a democracy have a right to "decide to replace the current government with a more capable one." Now, Bush could be talking about the "normal channels" of an election. However, as mcjoan noted, it would take too long to organize new elections. Several diaries have addressed the alternative action of a planned coup, with a little help from Bush team. Whether a coup or political boycotts, this is just another word for political protest, government style. As it currently stands, Maliki has "lost nearly half the members of his cabinet to political boycotts and resignations." Bush could also be referring to the right of the people in a democracy to petition their government for change, which includes the right to protest!
The same is true of civil disobedience, which is generally defined as the "refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes."
In some forms of civil disobedience, it is one person who knowingly refuses to obey a law that she or he opposes, and believes that this individual action, which may also be performed by others across the nation or in the same industry, will send a message to the government to change the law. If progressives engage in violating the law, it is civil disobedience; when government or corporations violate the law to change policy in de facto manner, it is business as usual:
When peace activists purposefully break a regulation to block a train carrying nuclear materials, that is civil disobedience. When government departments fail to provide information by mandatory deadlines, when corporations continually flout environmental regulations, ... that is seen as cause for concern but is not categorised as civil disobedience.
If all conduct that constitutes protest were actually recognized as protest, then it becomes clear that protest is used in some form by a majority of our society.
Moreover, even focusing only on political protest, this action is not limited to just a few Americans. A 2004 Pace Poll showed that New Yorkers, for example, are more involved in protest politics than in other civic activities. The poll showed that 38% of New Yorkers participate in protest politics. Nationwide, 27% of US residents similarly engage in protest politics, which is defined as "marches, demonstrations, boycotts, rallies, actions that lead to local reform, or labor and ethnically related group action."
The US Census Bureau reported a total resident population in 2000 of 281,421,906 million people (pdf file). Based on the Pace Poll results, there may be 75,983,914 million Americans who participate nationwide in protest politics.
The myth that protesters are the fringe elements of society who engage in violence.
Another myth is that protesters are the fringe elements of society. It is probably more accurate to say that in some protests the protesters will be the powerless of society. In any event, government and corporate America wanted to make protest less desirable precisely because it is an effective means of political action, which they use. Thus, the government and MSM tag the protesters as fringe elements and then Bush violates their legal rights while America remains silent. The resulting deleterious consequences endured by the protesters are a great tool to deter others from protesting:
A. Ernest Fitzgerald, who blew the whistle on military cost overruns, had formal rights, but this did not protect him from harassment (Fitzgerald, 1972) [or from being fired by President Nixon.] Very few government employees are willing to take a strong public stand on an issue which might jeopardise their career, and for good reason: Fitzgerald's own example, among others, stands as a warning to them. What then of the many activities that, while not illegal, would mean risking one's job and reputation, and for which there is no protection against victimisation? Workers are dismissed because of their organising activities, or simply for complaining about conditions; scientists are cautioned about speaking out about environmentally destructive effects of industry; students know that their future careers may be held back if they become too conspicuous in radical political activities; employees are suppressed because they exposed or threatened to expose unsavoury practices by their bosses (Ewing, 1977; Glazer and Glazer 1989; Martin et al., 1986; Peters and Branch, 1972).
Most employees realise the dangers involved in speaking out, and most of them remain quiet. Mass protest in the 'public sphere' then becomes restricted to 'safe' issues--such as peace marches in the 1980s--for which there is so much public support that most participants cannot be victimised (though conspicuous radicals in the movements still may be). On other issues, which are much more risky for those with jobs and reputations to lose, a disproportionate number of those who take public stands tend to be students, the unemployed, activists in community groups and others who have less to lose by being identified as protesters. The negative image of many protests results from the ingrained fear of protesting felt by many people, which leaves the field to those few who are willing to take the risks of protesting and who are perceived as 'fringe' elements of the population.
The costs of political protest have been many during the Bush years. We are familiar with the consequences imposed on civilian and governmental whistle-blowers --- like Sibel Edmonds, military generals, and environmental scientists. Even political blogging is a form of protest, and today some may try to out a blogger because employers hire firms to search the net when evaluating candidates for jobs or promotions.
Another myth is that progressive protesters are extremists who disrupt society with violent measures. The truth is that most protests or civil disobedience are predominantly nonviolent. Sometimes a few crazies try to stir things up. But police violence at protests is often directed at all protesters, many who have done no wrong. The irony is that any violence that may be charged against a protester is called terrorism whereas when the state uses violence and wrongful, excessive force against the protesters, that violence is deemed legitimate:
Even the major political struggles in liberal democracies, such as between workers and employers, are usually about the balance of power within the system, not about the organising principles of the system itself. Nevertheless, the dominant institutions are backed in the last resort by force, namely by the police and the military. Whereas violence by 'protesters' is invariably condemned and often called terrorism, violence by the police or military is usually seen as legitimate.
The full power of the state can be employed against those individuals and groups placed in the category of protesters. Direct action against the military, such as opposing conscription or encouraging desertion, can result in prison terms; recalcitrant trade unions may be threatened with deregistration. By contrast, prison terms for corrupt politicians or corporate executives are seldom contemplated (Barak, 1991); non-cooperative professions are never threatened with deregistration, nor are corporations ever threatened with deregistration of private property (Parkin, 1979). The asymmetry is clear: the law and state power backed by force are used to thwart those who challenge dominant groups and used to protect institutions such as private property and hierarchical authority which sustain those same dominant groups.
Please take a look at the "extremist" families of grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren protesting against war across the nation since the start of the Iraq War. [video deleted]
The myth that "normal channels" should be used in lieu of protest.
There are progressive voices I respect who advocate that political action, such as campaigning, is more effective and should be used in lieu of protest:
And frankly, rallies are far less effective than people give them credit for. They make a nice media splash but given the work and time involved, a really poor use of resources. Think about it-- if 100,000 people (to take a conservative estimate) were down in DC this weekend, most of them taking the whole day to get there and get home, that is something like 1.2 million volunteer hours.
Instead of one media event that most people just barely notice in an impersonal newspaper article or TV message, if all of those people had spent that time in phone banks or door-knocking, they could have literally engaged tens of millions of people individually. They could have asked these new people to come to followup meetings, asked them to host house parties with neighbors, asked them to write their legislators-- asked them to do something other than stare at a media report. ...
Outreach is hard, but reaching new people is really far more important than hanging out for a day with people who already agree with you. Rallies are occasionally fun and a morale booster at points, but they aren't real organizing. The idea that they exert real power or should be the focus of activist energy is one of the worst possible delusions possible.
This is an interesting position for progressives to take because apparently this view is generally held by the government, corporations and other dominant groups of society who have power. These dominant groups phrase the argument a bit differently, advocating that people should leave "social problems to the elites and experts" by working through "normal channels" in lieu of protest.
One problem is that studies on the impact of social movements found that the civil rights movement was key to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. A big contributing factor was the indiscriminate violence committed against protesters that led to embarrassing international news coverage, forcing our government to defend the civil rights movement. However, the case studies showed that "nontraditional politics was a viable method of social change, capable of bringing about the desired results far faster than traditional methods."
The problem is that the "normal channels" are biased in favor of the privileged and powerful:
The trouble with these channels is that they are biased in favour of privileged groups. Native Americans as a group can hardly get ahead by rising up through corporations or professions, since it is discrimination in such areas which is the cause of many of their problems. Lobbying holds little hope, since lobbying is mainly of benefit to those who have money, power or some other reason why their views should be listened to. (Arguing on the basis of social justice alone doesn't get lobbyists very far.)
The argument for pursuing "normal channels" is further weakened by Bush's use of repressive means to weaken or destroy "normal channels" as well as stop dissent. Typical measures to repress political opposition include the "development of secret spying operations," historically and typically established ostensibly to "deal with criminals or violent enemies of the state, [but] the usual tendency has been for these agencies to increasingly focus on formally legitimate opposition movements."
In some cases direct attempts are made to cause disruption in the opposition, as in the FBI's Cointelpro program (Blackstock, 1976). But even the collection of material and compilation of dossiers on members of political parties, trade unions, anti-nuclear groups and women's groups effectively operate to stifle dissent, simply because many people become apprehensive about taking conspicuous political action of any sort. The frequent jokes and concerns by members of community action groups about telephones being tapped are symptomatic of the inhibiting effect of spying.
Bush is not only conducting warrantless surveillance of Americans, but this administration has targeted groups who protest, dissent, criticize or engage in civil disobedience as "terrorists," which is a great way to deter people from exercising their civil rights. We have also seen Bush and/or the GOP engage in disruption techniques with Democratic phone banks, voter suppression campaigns based on disinformation and read about corporate America disrupting elections with "biased" voting machines.
Political censorship is another means used by Bush to stifle dissent not so much with formal censorship but unofficial, wink/wink understandings with MSM that certain issues should simply not be covered:
The key here is the role of the mass media--television, radio and large newspapers and magazines--which are the main source of information for the bulk of the population. The existence of small dissident presses often can be ignored if the information they present does not reach a wider audience. On a number of crucial issues the top executives of the mass media are reluctant to go out of their way to antagonise the government and powerful corporations (Bagdikian, 1990; Herman and Chomsky, 1988). For example, the Indonesian invasion and brutal policies in East Timor were almost entirely excluded from the mass media in the United States; the issue was one which was far away, and to pursue it would have been to antagonise the US government, the direct source of a great deal of news (Chomsky and Herman, 1979).
No need for citation to articles that show how the MSM is essentially an extension of the WH press office. On the issue of the Iraq War alone, the MSM withheld information from the public that was critical of Bush's march toward war and published few stories that proved that Bush's grounds for war were lies and half-truths filled with parsing. This was an effective means to delay by a year or two Americans from learning the truth, which prevented many Americans from opposing the war until after Bush's war was well underway. While we are working toward expanding and strengthening our progressive Netroots, the MSM remains the predominant news source for many Americans. As discussed below, even Bush realizes that a handful of protesters can break through this MSM wall.
Harsh legal penalties are also used by the government to deter and repress protest, such as federal prosecutors filing felony charges against anti-nuclear activists for the first time. This method has been used before to deter protests:
One reason for the decline of the direct action campaign by British peace activists in the early 1960s was the heavy prison sentences given to civil disobedients (Young, 1977). In the 1980s in the United States, a number of activists who have entered military facilities and performed symbolic minor damage in nuclear facilities (hammering nose cones and pouring blood over files) have been given jail sentences of 10 years or more, as reported in the journal The Nuclear Resister.
Selective enforcement of the laws is another means used to stop dissent:
Laws in some countries against use or sale of certain drugs are now so extreme that they could not possibly be enforced against even a fraction of violators. It is not unknown for political activists to be charged for using marijuana and given years or even decades in prison. When taken in conjunction with widespread police corruption, including trade in illicit drugs, such actions expose the facileness of the argument that civil disobedience should be circumscribed because it undermines respect for the law.
We are familiar with Bush's use of the Secret Service, which ordered local police to restrict anti-Bush protesters to caged free speech zones. If you protested Bush, you were "herded behind a chain-link fence in a remote area" and arrested if you refused to be corralled.
However, Bush's supporters were permitted to line the streets of his motorcade route:
There was such a pattern and practice by Bush and senior federal officials to discriminate against progressive protesters that the ACLU filed a law suit in 2003, which was the "first nationwide lawsuit of its kind" and was based on police censorship in "Arizona, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, among other places."
In short, Bush has worked very diligently to weaken or destroy "normal channels" of political action as well as to deter political protest. One way to strengthen our "normal channels" is to protest such abuses.
The myth that protest is ineffective.
To paint protest as ineffective is amazing given the successes obtained over the years:
That the effectiveness of direct action can still be debated strains credulity. The success of Gandhi's campaigns in India during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement should have settled the question. Since the beginning of the modern environmental movement, the campaigns against nuclear power, to save ancient forests, to achieve a global ban on high-seas drift net fishing and open dumping have all incorporated significant direct action components. The American experience is teeming with nonviolent direct action. One of the most famous direct actions ever, the Boston Tea Party is patriotically taught in school. Most of the world's democracies have been created by acts of conscience against the state.
Historically, protest has been instrumental in forcing the introduction of freedoms that we now take for granted, such as "the ending of slavery, extension of the franchise, curtailing ruthless aspects of the exploitation of labour and extending rights to women and minorities."
Our forefathers and foremothers did not obtain the now constitutional rights of equality or voting by pursuing normal political channels of campaigns or voting because those options did not exist:
Woman's suffrage protest and parade
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Desegregating Little Rock, nine students
Nashville lunch counter sit-ins
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Three marches of Selma to Montgomery
Kent State and Cambodia Incursion Protest
Battle of Seattle against the wto
Today, we have the option of "normal channels," but the effectiveness of many channels have been weakened by Bush. If we want to limit ourselves to traditional channels, let's remember that protest is also a historical and constitutionally recognized right of the people to petition their government.
The recent Agnone study based on protest event (public demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, rallies, and boycotts) data from 1960-1998 concluded that protest is more effective than other political action to effect changes in the law.
This study investigated the impact of social movements, in this case the environmental protest movement, on the passage of legislation favorable to the movement. This first study to quantify the effectiveness of protest produced key findings that "upend conventional political wisdom":
- Protest is significantly more important than public opinion or institutional advocacy in influencing the passage of federal laws.
- Protest is positively and significantly related to the passage of pro-social movement policies by Congress. Each protest event in a year "increases the likelihood of pro-environmental legislation being passed by 1.2%."
- Social movements can directly impact public policy. Moderate protest (protests and demonstrations) "increases the annual rate of adoption by an astonishing 9.5 percent." That is, "protest is on average associated with a 9.5% increase in the annual expected number of pro-environmental laws passed."
- Public opinion does have an impact on legislators passing laws favorable to the social movement. However, public opinion did not have a greater positive effect on policy than protest. "Protest has a greater variable impact on the expected number of pro-environmental laws passed than does public opinion."
- Protest increases the chances that legislators will listen to public opinion. "Specifically, an increase in public support for environmental protection has a positive and significant impact on the passage of laws favorable to the environment when accompanied by increases in protest--above and beyond the direct effects of each. In brief, protest raises the salience of public opinion for legislators. These results lead to an important conclusion: when both protest and public opinion are at high levels, they jointly influence policy makers in ways that would be impossible if each existed without the other."
- The impact on public opinion on policy may be amplified by election cycles as well as protest. "This finding is particularly noteworthy given that Page and Shapiro (1983) found that 55% of the policy arenas analyzed showed no change or a noncongruent change between public opinion and policy. In light of this analysis, it is possible that the missing factor in Page and Shapiro's study is an amplification mechanism. Some policy arenas may only be responsive to public opinion when the salience of electorate concerns are heightened by protest or elections."
- "Institutional advocacy has limited impact on federal environmental policy."
The myth that protest is not beneficial.
One benefit of protest is alerting the public to issues that are not covered by the MSM . The purpose of the Battle of Seattle in 1999 was to oppose globalization and cancel the WTO meeting. Those 4 days of protests by 400,000 global citizens succeeded in not only getting the world to listen to this issue, but the negotiations by world leaders were postponed, and did not formally begin until the next meeting held at Qatar.
Bush knows that protest is an effective tool to implement change and to educate the public about issues. That is why Bush takes steps to repress dissent. It is also why Bush uses a strategy of illegally arresting protesters to silence their voices so that laws can be passed that would likely have failed had their voices been heard. This is not speculation. Bush did this while Governor of Texas.
It is the basic Texas 2-step: Arrest people engaged in lawful protest or expression of opinion and then release the next day without filing charges, or later dropping charges that had been filed, as there were no legal grounds for the arrest in the first place. For example, when he was Governor of Texas in 1999, Bush unilaterally changed the rules permitting protesters to protest on the public sidewalk outside the governor's mansion. (It should be noted that this executive change of state law was not published and remained a secret law when this occurred in 1999.) Bush ordered law enforcement officials to arrest protesters at this public forum. So, protesters were arrested, held overnight and then released without charges filed as Texas law was not violated.
What could be Bush's stealth motive for intentionally taking actions that violated Texas laws and customs? In this case, the protesters were protesting legislation pending before the Texas Legislature that the protesters believed encouraged industrial pollution so they wanted to petition their government for the passage of clean air laws. However, silencing the protesters by arresting them also silenced the issue with the result that the "clean air legislation lost by a slim margin in the Texas Legislature. It is quite possible that the governor's action stymied protesters' goal to educate Texas legislators on the issue."
Indeed, Bush has not ignored the anti-war movement and protests because he knows that such protests have positive impacts not obtained by other means of political action. When Bush faces an "increasingly spirited antiwar movement," he and his allies respond with a "broad public relations offensive" to defend Bush and his war. As Rummy's former chief media adviser stated, "public support is absolutely critical to the success of military operations" or sustaining support for Bush's war. The thing that triggered this particular PR "surge" was the media attention provided Sheehan and other peace activists in 2005.
As the ACLU noted, protests can make both voters and policy makers listen:
Many people thought the tactics which ACT-UP used to protest how long it took to get new drugs were counterproductive. Those tactics included disrupting public meetings by cat-calling, and having protestors burst into private meetings and chain themselves to furniture. Few today would say ACT-UP was not an important part of speeding up the drug approval process.
Another benefit of protests is the expansion of outreach to different groups not aligned previously. In 2000, mostly white protesters were focused on their plan to shut down IMF meetings in DC and were not thinking about the "predominantly African American city ravaged by crime, poverty and homelessness." Some DC residents were wondering why the young protesters were so outraged about the "abstract" issue of "global human rights, economic justice and the environment while seeming to ignore the pressing problems that affect local residents every day." After the police shut down the protesters' "logistical nerve center," protesters found alternative meeting places in the "churches, community centers and apartment basements" of the working class neighborhoods. The interactions between the protesters and the community were beneficial:
As the scheduled protests ended, activists were beginning to realize that the future of their movement would not rest on whether or not they shut down meetings at the IMF headquarters, but on their ability to find common ground with the working class and minority people that live here....
The success of the demonstrations was clearly in the unexpected spontaneous dialogues between disparate groups that inspired a new excitement about political organizing. The protesters' explicit agenda -- to shut down the World Bank -- didn't necessarily resonate with residents, but their concerns about living standards, rights of the poor and social justice were welcomed and appreciated.
We have raised our voices in other forms of political action --- such as voting, LTE, campaigns, etc. - but our voices have not been heard. When 50% of Americans asked that Congress just consider impeaching Bush if he lied about the war, Congress responded by taking impeachment off the table. When 52% of Americans (including 59% of independents and 23% GOP) asked that Congress consider impeaching Bush if he wiretapped U.S. citizens without court approval, Congress responded by giving Bush more powers to invade our lives. When 54% of Americans asked that the House "begin impeachment proceedings" against Cheney, Congress responded by its silence.
Today, our right to vote is tainted by fraud, the power and influence of special interest groups and corrupt politicians who maintain their office and then prevent changes in laws to protect our civil rights, constitutional rights, and human rights. Given that protest has been shown both historically and empirically to be an effective means of political action to force Congress to listen to the people, why do progressives want to unilaterally disarm? Corporate America and our government recognize the value and effectiveness of political protest, why can't we?
Road2DC is a group of kossacks committed to building a nationwide rideshare network to make it easier for as many as possible to attend protest events in DC. Road2DC exists to help kossacks march on DC on 9/15 against the Iraq War. Nationwide caravans and ride sharing is available as well as additional information for this protest.
As John Lennon says, let's give protest a chance to bring peace.
NOTE: This diary was originally posted at Daily Kos. Pictures and videos were removed to post at TalkLeft, but sometimes there may still be a reference in the text to these graphics. Unfortunately, i only remembered once to identify in brackets that a graphic had been deleted.
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