I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're goin' through

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The lamentable state of protest today

This post was provoked by Eric's post about this protestor. Fred Clark has his own post here asking evangelicals to look at the world and realize, before anybody really knew anything, they were calling this guy an evangelical, because of his actions (sung to the tune of "They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love").

Really, WTF people? This is a protest. You just don't have the first shitting clue, do you? You drive up to a General Mills Plant way the hell out front where nobody can see you and are trying to be so quick that you don't even pour the cereal you want to light into the bowl first, but try and light it as you pour. And then you're worried about burning the lawn.

Well, you have some concern there. What you're doing is criminal trespass, arson and burning without a permit (I'm assuming here), and if you torch the lawn that's criminal vandalism. And you don't want to have to pay a ticket or anything like that.


Okay, here I'll make the disclaimer that I'm not advocating that you should break laws or go to jail because those are really bad things to have happen to you. Try and get a job in this market with a record (he said as someone who had to go through a background check just to take classes in the healthcare industry). Doing property damage, even in the case of civil disobedience is a crime. IF you do a crime as protest, if you do it well you should expect to go to jail. But this? You know what, if you really believe, if you're really incensed, if you're so gosh darn sure the country is going to hell in a handbasket, then don't pee into the wind, okay?

This kind of protest in the video above is mental masturbation. It's only for you, and you're getting yourself off. This isn't protest, this is, "oh looky, I'm so upset, I'm going to do something that won't change a farging thing."

It's akin to the whole Freedom Fry joke of a protest. Renaming your French Fries and French Toast and French Dressing to Freedom Whatever doesn't do shit. It's sitting in the corner holding your breath to get someone to change an answer you don't like when that person is neither your parent, your guardian, doesn't know you from Adam or Steve and really isn't even looking in your general direction let alone in the same room as you. Or in other words, all you're going to do is either breathe through your nose or pass out and wake up later with a headache. Think France gets a penny every time you order fries, toast, or put red dressing on your salad? Hell, those things didn't even come from France in the first place, they're American as all get out.

What's closer to real protest was dumping French wine down the sewer. Only you paid for it first before dumping it. I'm sure the vineyards in France and their Export Ministers were quaking in their berets over there. Would you mind so very much if they shipped us a few of the extra cases of spoiled wine that we could pay for and dump? They'll even make you a special label. Doesn't matter if it's spoiled because we won't be drinking it, you darn Frenchies. Take That! Ha ha. Wait, what do you mean my credit card is maxed out. Oh damn. Time to call it off and go home and use Russian Dressing on our salads.


The Tea Party in one of their first go arounds on the Mall in Washington DC got a whole truck load of tea bags (hopefully Lipton, not one of those imports… wait for it) that they were going to dip into the Reflecting Pool on the Mall to show just how righteously pissed they were. Only they couldn't get a permit to drive the truck onto the Mall nor to dip their tea bags. Something about not muddying the waters or some such. And that was it. The truck went home, everybody bought souvenirs and corn dogs. Because you know our forefathers not only bought the ships and the tea on them in Boston (and all the other places that had "Tea Parties" back in the Revolution), but they asked awfully nicely if they could toss some of it over. Thank the gods there were no environmentalists to wail about all those fishes hyped up on caffeine. Ah, it was a better time then. Wait, what were we talking about. Oh yeah, those Revolutionaries were such a nicely mannered bunch, weren't they?

Look, here's what you do when the dumb asses stamp "denied" on your permit. You get about forty people to haul the boxes of tea down to the protest and just dump it anyway and wait for the capital police to arrest you. Dare them to, even. Because that's what protest is, damn it. And if you're feeling really strongly about it, you just back the truck up and put the truck with the tea bags in it into the reflecting pool.

The better protest was swarming the Capital during the Obamacare debate. But all you did was make the Congressmen and Congresswomen walk in groups. And, as I pointed out in a debate on one of the videos, it wasn't clear if they were headed into the Capital or headed back to their offices. Also there was the racial thing. Also, it wasn't really your core concerns (taxes and lowering the deficit).

What did the union people in Wisconsin do when they were going to close the Capital building to "clean"? "Oh well, chaps, might as well go home and get a good night's sleep." No. Fuck no. They set their lawyers to sue and they held their ground until it came to almost armed assault. That's a protest. They dared the police to arrest them.

When people marched over the bridge to Selma, when they got on the buses, when they stayed off the buses, when they marched with the unionists, when they marched on Washington, they understood that being arrested was not only part of the plan, but it wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to them. You might remember that civil rights was a shooting war in some places.

When people went on strike, they had a very real expectation that they might be shot. That isn't hyperbole. People were shot. In the mining towns in West Virginia people were mowed down with the new fangeled Gatling gun while they were in their homes (the train tracks went right through the middle of the company towns). When you went on strike you didn't march outside, you occupied the plant. It was a form of protection and it kept the owners from just firing you all and getting new workers.

If you're going to protest you need to make the people you want to change feel uncomfortable. If you're protesting against The Man, you've gotta make it tough for them. Get two or three people arrested and then everybody goes home, that's not it. I know they teach "passive resistance" courses on how to make it harder for the police to haul you away. Wrong idea. The people in charge really don't care if some officer gets a sore back from lifting you up. You want to make it easy for the police to arrest you. You want them to. You want to force that cop to process you. Because that (the processing and going through court) takes time. Takes real dollars and man power to do. You want to get a thousand people arrested. And don't let them off with only one or two at a time. "Officer, I demand you arrest me now." Make three judges get out of bed, come down to the courthouse to process you through because there just isn't any room to hold 10 people overnight, let alone a few hundred, and you'll make a dent. Keep all those officers late (more than likely on overtime already) to get double time to process forms. Trust me, someone at the State House will be getting a call. And you'll get on the news. Maybe not for your protest, but as it takes a day or two to process you all through the system. That's newsworthy.

So, Mr. "I'm gonna burn this here box of cheerios I bought from the store", you're pissing in the wind. You want to make a protest, grab a few hundred boxes from their warehouse and burn those. That'll cost GM something. That would get their attention (but probably not much). What you did, other than costing the local municipality a few hundred dollars to respond and put out the grass fire you started, was piddly shit. You just masturbated all over the GM sign there and then put the video up on YouTube to show how manly you were running away before anybody might notice you were actually there. If you did scorch some lawn there, I hope General Mills and your local municipality sends you the bill to clean it up, and puts a lean on whatever property you own to have it paid. After all, you handed them the very evidence they need to get the courts to act. Worth it? You should have chained yourself to the sign. Or maybe, since you're such a good customer, General Mills might just send you a coupon pack to buy your next box of cheerios to burn.

Oh, and here's your sign.


Eric said...

Y'know, it makes you appreciate the level of commitment of the nuns who break onto military bases and start going to town with a wrench on the aircraft to protest nuclear weapons or whatever. Not because that's the best way to protest nukes, but just because they're putting skin in the game in exactly the way the teabaggers and fundies aren't: they want to do damage, they want to get caught, they want to have the opportunity to go to trial and use it as a platform to ask society if having an arsenal of mass destruction is worth putting a bunch of God-fearing nuns in prison. (I know it's not just nuns: feel free to swap in child psychiatrists and vegan hippies and elderly college professors--the principle, as you've already suggested, Steve, is the same.)

It's sort of like the conservatives have internalized the wrong lessons of Sixties (and even Eighties) radicalism. They think protest is about spectacle, without realizing the spectacle is just to get everybody's attention; it's sort of like (and I realize this is an imperfect metaphor) showing up is the pledge and chaining yourself to the fence or setting fire to the draft card or whatever is the turn--the actual prestige is going to court and denouncing the system (or getting in as much denouncing as the court will allow, or otherwise making the trial a circus). The conservatives seem to have gotten the idea that the pledge and the turn are the whole goddamn trick and this is why they so often end up just embarrassing themselves.

But they're not going to give us the prestige precisely because they're conservatives. What I mean is: radicals already feel like the system is broken and deserves a certain level of contempt or abuse; conservatives by definition feel like tradition and authority must be respected. So if the prestige involves making the lives of police officers, judges and lawyers difficult, that pretty much goes against the conservative grain to start with.

They fall into the same trap when they try to do a version of the Michael Moore schtick. To the extent Moore (and others who mine similar vein) ever had any kind of virtue or credibility, it wasn't capturing the "GOTCHA!" moment, it was the serious, almost schmaltzy follow-through about how this is bad but the system can be fixed, or there are good people still fighting the good fight, etc. To extend the metaphor by paraphrasing the movie The Prestige: it's not enough to make something disappear, the real trick is, you have to bring it back. Catching people behaving badly is merely catching people behaving badly; to mean something, there has to be a payoff--a call to arms, a ray of hope, a just comeuppance, whatever.

Interesting thoughts; thanks, Steve!

Steve Buchheit said...

Eric, you said it. I guess it's like the writing axiom, go for the source material I also agree that conservatives have too much of their ideology based on deference to authority figures to really rebel.

It just feels like protest has become this badge of honor. People of a certain age are asked if they marched with MLK. And I think there are people who look at that and say, "Yeah, I want to be able to say that." So when asked by their kids, "What did you do," they can say triumphantly, "I made a youtube video."

The revolution will be televised, but the revolution isn't on the television. The revolution is in the street getting its lungs burned out, and its kidneys kicked, and its wrists chaffed from the handcuffs. It's not sitting at home saying, "Oh, look, that's me on the screen!"