Archive for the ‘protests’ Category

May Day Malaise

May 2, 2009

I didn’t attend my local May Day protests this year. Not because I don’t support the worker’s struggle, or because my zeal for the cause has slackened (by the way, please do your part to support the employee free choice act). Rather it’s because I’ve become disillusioned and disenamored with the medium of the protest itself.

Street protests in the United States have become little more than a hollow ritual. You obtain a permit, show up at the designated time and place, shout your slogans, wave your signs, march around. Afterward, everyone goes home.

Usually the police show up and arrest somebody on trumped up charges (when they don’t simply give you a beat down for no good reason). Sometimes a bunch of reactionary counter-protesters show up. But in any case, the above formula applies to nearly every protest in the US. In other words, they accomplish nothing other than allowing the protesters a chance to let off some steam (and possibly, get themselves arrested). The government allows us to protest, but usually simply continues the very policies we come out to protest in the first place (I really can’t think of a better way a government could say “fuck you” to its own citizens, but in such a weak democracy as the United States I’m not surprised).

My point is that protests in the US have become no more than symbolic action. And symbolic action changes nothing, especially when it’s become as predictable and tame as most American protests are. If hundreds of thousands of people across the country couldn’t stop the Iraq War from moving forward, a few thousand demonstrators on May Day won’t push through the kind of labor reform this country needs.

As activists we need to focus on direct action rather than symbolic action. This may very well mean abandoning the protest as a useful way to achieve one’s goals. At the very least we should try taking a page from, say, the French.