Since I’ve gotten my daily quota of thinking and writing extensively about zombies out of the way, I thought I would write about something really crazy: The usefulness of protest.
When I was 15, I was in that phase that a lot of white children of Baby Boomers go through, the “Idolizing the late 60’s” phase. You know what I’m talking about, right? “Oh man, I wish I could have gone to Woodstock.” “Music was so much better then. Monterey Pop? Man!” “Protests are really awesome. Look at what college was like back then. Peace, man. The will of the people!” And so on and so forth.
One day there was some announcement that there were going to be big budget cuts for the Philadelphia public school system. Big surprise, I know. So someone somewhere organized a protest and students were encouraged to walk out during class to participate. I decided to go with some friends because I figured it was time to put my non-existent money where my mouth was. I took the “dreaded” unexcused absence because I’m a bad ass…apparently. A bunch of students wussed out and got early dismissals so that the protest wouldn’t count against their PERMANENT RECORD. Way to be committed, guys.
Anyway, I get there and found a bunch of people outside City Hall screaming incoherently, waving around signs that said things like “We are the future!” and “Abortion is wrong! Here is a photo of a bloody fetus! This is totes relevant!” Someone brought a paper mache Grim Reaper with no explanation of who was dying. I’m assuming it was my chances at a better education or something.
Long story short, first I was extremely confused and then I was extremely disappointed. I got the distinct impression that the organizers of the protest didn’t really have a useful plan. They just wanted to yell and scream and not effectively tell the government where exactly they should get the extra money from. Now, I’m not saying that it wasn’t likely true that there was money bleeding everywhere into useless crap, but the presenters at the protest did not educate anyone who attended. I left knowing nothing more about the budget cuts than when I arrived, which was very little to begin with. To make things worse, I’m fairly certain that they cut the budget. It was hard to tell since we were always scraping for money anyway. Needless to say, I came away from it with a view of protests that was pretty grim.
To me this seemed very different from something like the civil rights protests on the 60’s. It seemed to me, from a hindsight perspective of course, that the purpose of those marches was pure visibility. We are here. We are strong. We are organized. We deserve to participate equally in society. We are a threat because of our commitment and because of our numbers. Perhaps it seemed useless because the vast majority of students attending were under 18. We couldn’t vote. We weren’t a threat to anyone. The worst we could do was to not show up to school and I don’t know that this would hurt anyone other than ourselves. I remember that contemporaries of mine were up at the podium “delivering speeches”. But apparently they had not been given the memo that a speech is generally not a lot of yelling “It’s our money and we want it now!” I was being represented by dolts who had clearly missed the point. I think the organizers thought that if City Hall saw that students themselves were outraged that they would listen. But they’re not going to listen if you’re acting your age and not saying anything. In addition, perhaps the protest I attended lacked that sense of danger and sacrifice that has made other ones so much more meaningful. Absolutely nothing was going to happen to us. We weren’t going to get arrested (unless we turned violent, I suppose). No one was going to come out and mow us down with water or gunfire. We were just there being a pain in the ass for a while…but not a particularly notable pain in the ass.
So I figured I’d pack up my hippie skirts and love beads and never go to a rally or a protest again.
Recently though, especially after following the various Occupy movements, I began to think again about the role of protest and its usefulness. I remember hearing a lot of comments about the movements pertaining to the fact that they didn’t really have a cohesive message/collective definitive goal. I mentioned this to a friend and he said that he didn’t want them to decide on a message because when ultimate goals and uniform messages are chosen, they become divisive. The power of the Occupy movements was the sheer number and diversity of people involved. I saw the wisdom in what he was saying. The general idea behind the Occupy movements was that most of the country is in the 99% and our interests should be served. The interests of the 1% are irrelevant to the vast majority of the voting public, and yet you would not know that looking at public policy.
I started to understand. Visibility is key. In the beginning, you need enough organization to give people a reason to join you, but not so much that people get turned off. When you want people to know you are here and you care that they see you, you want as many people of as many varying backgrounds as possible. I think that perhaps the protest from way back when was a failure because there just weren’t enough voting adults there to show that these screaming kids are echoing what their parents want and what everyone should want for their population’s education. Unification would only have been successful had it appeared that kids parents told them to walk out and were now walking along beside them.
As I mentioned before, in a few weeks, I, along with Wes, Shaun and Ginny, will be attending the first ever Reason Rally in Washington, DC. I am really freaking excited and I think I’m excited because of this new understanding of the purpose of organizing just to be seen. We are currently in a very strange time politically…or at least it seems rather new and peculiar to me (but that is likely because I am only now becoming really aware of things). With Rick Santorum appearing to be a viable candidate for president, I find that I have a little seed of terror growing in my heart. Our country is so very young and yet one of the main underlying ideals of its founding is being continually threatened. A United States without separation of Church and State is a country that I would be unable to recognize. And yet, it’s already happening as the open assault on women’s autonomy over their bodies is viciously attacked, as Constitutionally aware teens are being publically torn apart for wanting their public schools free from a faith they do not share, as politicians are chastised for not being Christian as if that has anything at all to do with the American government and what it was meant to be. I look forward to this humongous gathering of atheists, humanists and secularists. I want us to take the place by storm and point out definitively:
We are here. We are strong. We are organized.
And while I don’t hope for any kind of idiotic violence or ignorant displays, I do recognize that non-believers are threatening. Not because we’re going to do anything to you but because we exist and many of exist morally, awesomely and well. Many of us, if not most (I’m just admitting that I certainly don’t know every non-believer out there. If the Awesome Atheist is any indication, there are definitely some of us who are Grade A Assholes…the A is for Assholes. That’s how you know it’s real.) are normal, law abiding pleasant people. All we want is a government that represents everyone’s interests and the only government that can do that effectively is a secular one.
Will you be joining us? Here’s a bunch of great info to help make that possible from Blag Hag!