Protests Gone Wrong
Column: The Malcontent by John Taraborelli
It seems that there has been a rash of protests gone wrong lately. The Bush years have provided us with countless protest-worthy offenses, and certainly protesting, and the right to it, has played a vital role in our country’s history. Sometimes the ugly abuses of people in power require the citizens to speak out, often against popular sentiment, but what about when the protesters are just as ugly and offensive? What about when they’re just plain stupid? Like this:
Now certainly the right–nay, duty–of the populace to speak out against perceived wrongdoing on the part of its government is a fundamental principle of our Great Republic, but do the ladies in the video shown above really qualify as doing that? While no one would disagree that the slow, convoluted inner workings of our legislature often fail to serve the people and deserve our scorn, how does wild-eyed, inane shouting over a session of the House of Representatives serve the people? Is there not a better way to make your voice heard than dressing like the Statue of Liberty on a gay pride parade float and screaming incoherently at Ike Skelton?
Then there is this recent situation at the University of Florida:
Were the police heavy-handed? Certainly. Was it really necessary for this guy to be arrested and cuffed? Definitely not. Was the taser excessive? Clearly. Here is another case of a bunch of over-zealous cops feeling their oats–or rather their badges and guns–and getting tough with someone who posed no threat to anybody.
Of course none of that changes the fact that this guy is a total jerk-off. Come on, guy. Are you kidding me? You have nothing better to do than yell at Kerry about the 2004 election and accuse him of being a member of a secret society? This kind of myopic, accusatory outburst does about as much to further a level-headed, reasoned national dialogue as “The O’Reilly Factor.” Judging by this guy’s frantic, and somewhat embarrassing, yelping he considers himself to be a persecuted political dissident, but in reality he’s just another over-educated campus liberal causing a fuss that helps no one and accomplishes nothing. Here was an opportunity to take a sitting U.S. Senator to task for a job not well done, but this guy was more concerned with mouthing off, casting wild accusations, and proving to that cute girl from the Young Democratic Socialists meeting what a bad-ass revolutionary he is.
On a local level, there was the recent IWW protest in North Providence that resulted in this:
Here was another classic example of tough-guy police getting rough with essentially harmless people. Their behavior reminds me of Mark Wahlberg’s line in The Departed, when his brash, opinionated Sgt. Dignan informs Leonardo DiCaprio’s character that, “A lot of these guys are on the force just so they can put a nigger’s head through a windshield.” Here is a situation in which the police were clearly wrong, but does that make the protesters right?
The subject of this protest was Jacky’s Galaxie, a small chain of local Asian restaurants, owned by an immigrant. The restaurant was targeted for allegedly dealing with a restaurant supplier the IWW accused of mistreating and exploiting workers. Wouldn’t protesting the supplier seem a more relevant and effective way to go? Does tormenting a local small-business owner do much to shake the pillars of the capitalist system? Once again, the protesters have suffered to accomplish what? To demonstrate to us hopeless cogs in the giant machine of American capitalism how enlightened they are? To stick it to the man?
Unfortunately, the most these sorts of protests usually accomplish is getting a couple of their own people in jail and/or the hospital and maybe getting a few wild, unsubstantiated statements on the news. It is important to not only pick your battles (as in the Jacky’s Galaxie case), but to make your statements in a manner in which people might actually be willing to hear you out (as in the University of Florida case). The goal of a protest is to bring a grievance to the public’s attention and hopefully convert of few people to your cause. When the original IWW used to stage free-speech protests in the early 1900s, their members would be gleefully hauled off to jail, singing and laughing along the way. This was intended to make the ridiculousness of such oppression glaringly obvious, and their protests were almost always successful. Had the IWW protesters screamed wildly about police brutality and government repression, they would have come off like just another bunch of self-righteous demagogues looking for a confrontation. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and the omnipresent media, it is important to get your message across in a way that seems rational and compelling, at least if you want to accomplish anything. If your only goal is to be the next self-made martyr of a hopeless cause, then go ahead and shout conspiracy theories at John Kerry.