Four Characteristics of a Good Protest

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to try to get a handle on the madness occurring in and around Wall Street. I confess I am almost totally at a loss on this one. From what little I can tell by scanning various news sites and the protestors own site:

  • There are somewhere between 500 (conservative estimate) and 1200 (generous estimate) people involved. Fewer than attended my son’s high school homecoming game a couple weeks ago.
  • The number tends to be larger during the day. Apparently many of the protestors go home at night to get a good night’s sleep and catch up on some corporate sponsored sit-com.
  • They have no specific demands other than a seeming distaste for banks, large corporations, and anyone they deem to be in possession of too much money. “Too much” being defined loosely as “more than I have.”
  • They seem to want to align themselves tactically with what has gone on in the Arab world recently. You know, where they’ve been overthrowing oppressive militant regimes that have been in entrenched power for years?
  • The media love it…but seem to be growing a bit weary since they can’t find a good contiguous angle.

So in the interest of helping these angst filled souls disentangle themselves from their socialistic ennui allow me to suggest four characteristics that are the mark of a really good protest:

You ought to have a recognized villain

The French got this right when they did their revolutionary gig. Yes, yes they hated ALL the bourgeois but they REALLY hated Marie and Louie. A really good protest need a villainous face to point at and spit on and shake fists at. This idea of vaguely villainizing the corporations that built much of America and gave the protestors parents jobs, and contributed to their schools is ineffectual. Pictures of ‘corporations’ don’t work well on posters.

The villain really ought to have done something decidedly bad

You’d be hard pressed to call any of the recently displaced leaders in the Arab and north African world “good guys” and once they start firing on their own people it’s all over. While I agree that we have seen continuously mounting evidence of rampant corporate greed in the news lately the jury is still out on how they choose what is fit to show. After all Pine Creek’s homecoming had more people out than this protest and it got NO air time.  At the end of the day corporations provide jobs. You’d have to give a LOT of money to illegal immigrants and homeless people to put them in a positions to create jobs.

You really ought to have specific demands

When my kids were little we taught them that ranting, pouting, and grousing were not effective methods for getting what they want. As a result all three of them have turned out to be first class negotiators. (My bad on that one.) A ‘protest’ without specific demands or calls for specific action comes across rather like a flash-mobbed tantrum. Cool idea, but you really need more commitment to make it fly. Plus, with no call to specific action how do you know when the protest is over? How do you keep score?

You really ought to have a plan for change

A workable plan. At least the rudiments of a plan. “Redistribution of wealth” isn’t a plan unless you’re Robin Hood and working on a small village scale.

I can completely identify with the sens of disenfranchisement expressed by these protestors. I empathize even more with the fact that it is difficult to sort out who to vent their spleens towards when it all just feel oppressive, unfair, and constant. I applaud them for trying to keep their carnival non-violent.

But I’m afraid that shy of defining these four characteristics for their current shindig it’ll be tough to have any consistent, meaningful dialogue and without consistent meaningful dialogue I’m afraid we’ll all continue to flounder a bit.

Care for a slice of consistent meaningful dialogue? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these protests and their issues.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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30 thoughts on “Four Characteristics of a Good Protest

    • Thanks Michael. I remember an incident in college where a house party was advertised all over campus. The house was right across the street from some of the dorms. For some reason that no one could identify the administration got worried that the party was going to be HUGE and out of control so the police showed up and lined the street before the thing even really got going. Of course THAT drew a crowd and the crowd started getting unruly. A couple of us finally managed to persuade the police that THEY were the reason the crowd had gathered and that if they’d just leave, even just by going around the block, the crowd would disperse. The tactic finally worked.

      I think this thing started as a novelty and when the press got fixated on it THAT became the draw, which of course meant the press could be more fixated on it because it had a draw. The sad thing is that, good or bad, the rest of the world used to want to imitate the US. Now it seems we want to imitate the rest of the world even if we don’t know why.

  1. Ann Coulter’s book “Demonic” (you did refer to the French Revolution) says all you need to know about the “Occupy” movement and its instigators. Time to call a spade a spade.

    • I confess I haven’t read Ann’s book though I did recently finish A Tale of Two Cities. 🙂 The reason I made comparison to the French revolution was the oppressive economic conditions that existed that drove the French to their extreme solution. I’m not suggesting things in this country are anywhere NEAR that bad but I can understand people feeling economically depressed and I can understand that depression being fueled daily by a dose of selective media. When they elected a guy to the office of president in hopes he’d change it all, and so far he hasn’t, who do they get angry at now? Not themselves certainly. Not him certainly. Who then is next most handy? The “haves”.

      The sad thing is that they refer to themselves as “legion” because, I believe, in their mind the Bible is merely good historical literature and/or fiction and the word picture is convenient. Rather than seeing them as demonic shouldn’t we see them, in a spiritual sense, as duped?

  2. Good piece. I was just thinking how the Occupy Wall Street thing fit Anne Coulter’s book. Mass demonstrations, protests & mob behavior are seen as outside the mainstream of American tradition. America’s Founding Fathers feared the mob, and that was before the horrors of the French Revolution and it’s reign of terror. It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement that this means of expression was viewed in a somewhat more positive light. These kind of things don’t lend themselves to dialog and debate based on reason and moral values. It just degenerates into emotional chants.

  3. Everyone that I know of has created a villain. The bankers on Wall St. whom crashed the economy and has made life difficult for everyone whom isn’t in the upper brackets(they also hold a huge arse chunk of the money, which is depressing.

    I mean think of it. I have to work full time because, despite my parents making “too much” money for me to get financial aid, I still have to work full time to pay my way through college… Out of pocket. Which I’m not saying is necessarily bad, and it was all fine until I got laid off in March(despite being a very hard worker and doing my work accurately and efficiently).

    Needless to say, I stopped going to college because I knew I needed to save every penny I’d get(I finished the classes I was already taking, thank FSM for online classes, saved me gas money).
    I’ve had to be very very stingy, but my savings are about empty(even with working part time jobs and such), but I just landed a full time job which will be paying good, but its through a temp agency, meaning I don’t know if they will still need me after a particular contract or something.

    It’s scary, and all a lot of these people want are for them to be able to work hard and earn a living wage and health care(Hell, I’d love to be able to go to college without fear of losing my job, despite that regardless of where I work, I will always work my ass off to do a good job to minimize my chances of getting the boot).(And with my new job I need to invest in new tools cuz they have to be fancy digital ones and name brand, not just accurate tools, so Alas, I had to sell my dial calipers and micrometer so I can get Starrett, or Mitutoyo ones(the prices are terrifying and it’s money I don’t have).

    I do agree that the protest needs to be a lot more organized, but the fact that a lot of the most accurate info you can get comes from the protesters, and twitter(because they’re living it) rather than the mass media and the television is very depressing(Democracy Now has been doing a lot of stellar work through). But the fact that a lot of the protest info from the mass media has had quite a bit of inaccuracies, and so many people still support it says something huge, that we are all ready for a change. 🙂

    That said, I enjoy reading your blog, so keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for the comment Grace. I completely understand, and hear, and many days even feel, the sense of unfairness that the protestors are up in arms about. The main stream media is looking for soundbytes and thus far from what I’ve seen the protestors aren’t providing them in any consistent form. If they had a singular message they could easily get that across…maybe they just need some marketing help?

      NO doubt we’re all ready for a change…on every side of the political fence. We just need to able to have rational discourse to arrive at good solutions, Not just the emotionally charged banter loaded with secondary agendas that we get from the politicos.

      • Sorry about how long my reply took, I told it to alert me via email and it hadn’t(now I have to scroll back through your tweets and re-favorite it, since I favorite things I want to check out later). >_> Silly WordPress.

        But I do agree, everyone is ready for a change, regardless of where they stand, but I wonder if that is part of the reason as to why it’s so hard to figure out exactly what needs to be done, because so many people have so many opinions. Marketing help could be a great idea, but I lack skill in that field. :/

        • No worries. Take a peek at my post from this morning, especially the part about distinguishing between demands and objective. I think the bit that makes it “so hard to figure out exactly what needs to be done,” is that people tend to want to state demands rather than ultimate goals. We need to break that into two discussions…what we want to achieve and how we want to get there.

      • (no reply option at your bottomost comment ;_; )
        I agree with that completely, if that sort of dialogue was started, everything would be well on its way, and if actions were taken to actually start resolving the overall problems, at least the larger ones, then we might not STILL have that protest going on and now, the police brutality(not the motorcycle thing, i dunno exactly how true THAT one is, but I’m talking more about the whiteshirts beating up a woman.)

        But yeah, I’ll go read your article now. :P(i went out of town for the night, lol)

  4. “From what little I can tell by scanning various news sites and the protestors own site:” Way to do some “armchair researching” there Curtis. Perhaps if you really want to write a blog post about this, you should go down to the protest and see it for yourself. Maybe interview a few people that are there. Although your 4 points are good advice for the protesters and your stereotypes aren’t as strong as those from other websites, I still think you are missing something here. I predicted something like this would happen after the election in 2008. As soon as the special interest groups realize that Obama hasn’t and isn’t going to come through with his campaign promises for them, that group of disenfranchised voters is going to rise up and either neglect to vote in the coming election altogether or vote for somebody very opposite of Obama (i.e. experienced) Don’t be too quick to dismiss the protesters though. This gives the conservatives, the constitutionalists, the libertarians a chance for open dialogue with them and to educate them on how things should be working. Also, the lesson that I learned from a teacher in high school: “Life isn’t fair.”

    • Would it be fair to suggest that my “armchair researching” is actually more than what most folks do? I think most just see the one news story and go from there. As yet I’ve not seen evidence of open dialogue but you’re right, that may be because I’m not physically there. That being said it is difficult to have open dialogue or debate with someone who isn’t presenting a clearly articulated position.

  5. that is extremely inaccurate, The reason it is hard to find information about it without going to talk to the individuals there is because the same greedy corporations own the media

    • Well, hmmm…I checked with their website…which they own, not the media. But beyond that I’m not sure which part you’re saying is inaccurate. The numbers? The characteristics of a good protest? I’d love to discuss but not sure what it is we’re discussing, which was rather my point. Help me out here.

  6. Interesting article. I agree with some points such as pointing fingers at particular corporations. But honestly that’s not necessary when you have so many corps to point at.

    This protest has several groups involved and they each have various goals/demands. Not hard to find that on the interwebs. Maybe do a little more research before posting such a blog stating that there aren’t any. I just googled something and found a few websites with lists of demands.

    And with those goals they do have plans for change. You may not accept them b/c of your political views but they are there.

    • Ok, I’ll take that I suppose. But “several groups with various goals/demands” DOES start to sound more like a mob than a specific protest. (I’m not the one calling them a mob though the term is beginning to be applied.) That makes it sound like a few folks got together, maybe even with a specific purpose, but then others saw the gathering and lobbed their own purpose into the mix in order to join the party.

      If ten people come to my door with ten sets of demands I can’t/don/t listen to any of them because of the noise. I might pick out one or two who seem more willing to debate/discuss but not if the noise continues.

      I should point out too that corporations aren’t greedy. People are greedy. Corporations exist to provide shareholder value. They’re there to make money. If we don’t buy what they sell they don’t make money.

      • I agree. It should be more unified.

        But the big thing is corporate accountability.

        And you’re right…it is shareholders that are “greedy”. But they aren’t managing the company, and that’s when we get into corporate accountability blah blah and so on.

        The entire situation is crazy. I’m glad they’re out there doing protesting. Even if it’s unorganized. They’re getting attention back onto a subject that has been put in the back of everyone’s mind since the banks and corps were bailed out…

  7. Great post Curtis, especially the line about going home to watch some corporately produced sit-com. But isn’t that part of the problem, the majority of the population , right and left, has very little capacity for thinking about anything in any thorough fashion because we are anesthetizing ourselves with trivialities. Neil Postman’s book title alone (Amusing Ourselves to Death) is solid wisdom for our age.

  8. While I find your points valid, you have to take one thing into consideration…it’s only been three weeks.

    Maybe the cart was put before the horse a little by protesting before coming up with a plan, but it is what it is.

    It’s gonna take some time for leadership to emerge. When that happens they can come up with and present a specific plan of action.

    Of course, maybe it will never happen. The ADD generation that is leading this movement may not even have the attention span to see this thing past a few months.

    Still, it’s too early to paint it as a hopeless movement that lacks goals. .

    I go down there about once a week. It seems to be a very diverse group of people. Liberal, anarchists, communists, libertarians. So it is going to be difficult to unite all these different groups.

    My hope is that people will take their frustration to the polls and the stores. You don’t like either party, vote for someone else. You’re not gonna change everything with one election cycle, it takes time. You don’t like any of the candidates? Run yourself. You don’t like corporations, don’t buy their products. If you don’t like Bank of America, don’t bank there. Don’t go to events they sponsor.

    • I don’t think it is hopeless…just that it is missing some key characteristics for success. I grew up with the rule that you didn’t get to point out a problem unless you were ready to suggest a plausible solution. I’m hoping that DO come together and present realistic solutions to actual problems. As you suggest, time will tell.

    • Some of them are decent…though language like “CONGRESS PASS THE BUFFETT RULE ON FAIR TAXATION SO THE RICH AND CORPORATIONS PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE” sounds a bit pouty. Who is to determine what is a fair share?

  9. The people are learning it’s a wallstreet run government and just don’t know how to tackle the issue yet. I think this movement will continue to grow and get more focused. If you think this is bad wait until unemployment gets cut in January.
    How can the government expect us to pay our bills when they don’t pay theirs. What if we all just stopped paying our bills. I’m just following the leader. Can you imagine if the USA had a FICA score?
    I love how folks preach about being debt free but say nothing about all the money our government is borrowing. Remember it doesn’t matter how much food and gold you have stored if the ship goes down.
    Time will tell but if we learned anything from history, greed/corruption kill democratically ruled governments and it’s always followed by imperial rule. Let’s just hope when our Ceaser kicks in he’s not a bad guy.

    • Interesting thought! Marx had socialism following capitalism but you seem to be putting imperialism in between…or monarchy or some form at least. Funny, I think I read somewhere about a strong personality that comes in and unifies failing democratic capitalistic societies into a single global govt…now where did I see that? 🙂

  10. As predicted, job bill didnt pass today. Occupy wallstreet will continue to grow. They didn’t want to tax a million plus a year folks 5.6% more. On a side note Warren buffet released his 2010 tax return today showing he paid only 17.4% on 63 million dollars proving the ultra rich pay less in taxes then the middle class. He then called out Murdock and others to show their tax returns. Warren Buffet is a true American hero!

  11. May I simply say what a relief to discover somebody that really knows what they are talking about online. You certainly realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular since you surely have the gift.