Protest movements: how to make them more effective

I spoke with an activist from the 60s who said that change won’t come til there are massive protests like those that happened during the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement of the 60s.

She also said that the FBI and other government entities harassed protesters and infiltrated the movements, so don’t expect it to be pretty or painless now either.  Many African Americans put their lives on the line and were injured or killed to get their rights.

Occupy failed because not enough people supported it, because of violent government suppression, and perhaps because Occupy was too purist, anarchist, disorganized, and exclusive. They didn’t work with other lefty groups for fear of being co-opted.   Occupiers fought among themselves.

But if massive protest is what’s needed, there’s a big question: protest what? There are many things one could protest:  crazy Tea Party Republicans, the military and NSA, big banks, the Supreme Court, the Keystone XL Pipeline, TPP, Monsanto, Obama, the whole system? If the enemy is too broad, people won’t join in.

In an article in the Nation, Breaking Up With Occupy, Nathan Schnieder analyzes the precarious state of the Occupy Movement.  On the surface, Occupy seems to have failed, due to violent government retaliation and due to internal divisions and infighting. “Burn Occupy on a funeral pyre and move the fuck on,” said one activist. Some activists have now moved on to work at places like Google, where people actually get along and cooperate. (A corporation is a perfect example of organized cooperation!) Schneider writes:

Occupy is and was a test of the social psyche of American society, a measured action to measure the response of the American attitude toward change. Though many were not willing to step out of their comfort zone to join us, they internalized their support and used anonymous venues to support the cause. The people want the change presented by Occupy, however their survival mechanism kicked in and they feared for their lives, albeit more their livelihoods and social standing than anything else.

But maybe Occupy has entered a more effective, latent phase and will burst back on the scene. That’s the theory of the late antinuclear activist Bill Moyer (different from Backbone Campaign’s person of the same name). “Most activists in past social movements believed at the time that their movement was failing,” he said.  “Occupy is by no means over, it is just another iteration of an ever evolving conscious state of the human condition.”

One suggestion for Anarchists: maybe name your ideology something more appealing like Cooperativism.  Even Libertarianism (a close cousin to Anarchism) sounds better.

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One thought on “Protest movements: how to make them more effective”

  1. Occupy hasn’t failed. It has morphed into a number of smaller organizations. Some are working on Keystone and climate change; others are buying up foreclosed homes (pennies on the dollar like the banks), erasing debt and handing them back to the owners, are participating in the fast food workers actions and organizing etc/ It doesn’t have the high media profile it did. Given the current climate that might not be a bad thing. Government Surveillance of Occupy Movement.

    I’m not sure mass protest is going to be the 21st Century solution that it was in the past. I lived in Berkeley and the Bay area during the all of the 60’s. Things are different now. The economy is lousy so there isn’t much fat to feed off of for activists. There’s no conscription (although if you are poor or a minority it probably doesn’t feel that way) There are prisons all over the country in anticipation of just such an uprising. Police have taken advantage of NSA surveillance technology (latest Greenwald revelation is that they are building social network profiles of US citizens http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36381.htm ) as well as the old dodge of infiltrating. They have all sorts of sophistication crowd control weapons at their disposal. Local police are militarized. Obama has suspended Posse Comatatis allowing the US military to act against us.

    Widespread and inventive civil disobedience, hackers and whistleblowers may be the way forward.

    While we definitely need more people to actively participate, at the height of the Viet Nam war protests only 30% of the country believed the war was wrong (an incredible achievement by US propagandists).

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