Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Guess 2003 Was Too Far Back To Remember

"Americans are angry. Why aren't they protesting?" reads the headline. The piece, written by a sociology professor at UC Irvine, talks about the need for organization, structure, and focus - and uses the Tea Party phenomenon as a recent American example. He talks about James Madison's insistence, in Federalist #10, that the Constitution, in part, allows for funneling dissent and dissatisfaction through the system, and uses the politics of Wisconsin as an example.

Apparently, he, like most of the rest of the world, has forgotten the largest mass protest movement in recent years. For example:
Huge crowds of anti-war demonstrators jammed into midtown New York on Saturday as protesters in dozens of U.S. cities joined large crowds worldwide in voicing opposition to war with Iraq.

Demonstrators converged near the United Nations to protest the possible war in just one of the more than 600 anti-war rallies around the globe. Organizers estimated the crowd at more than 375,000, but Police Commissioner Ray Kelly estimated turnout at 100,000.

Besides protests in large cities such as Chicago, Illinois; and Los Angeles, California; rallies were held across the United States in smaller towns such as Gainesville, Georgia; Macomb, Illinois; and Juneau, Alaska, according to the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice.
Here's some more:
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of London to voice their opposition to military action against Iraq.
Police said it was the UK's biggest ever demonstration with at least 750,000 taking part, although organisers put the figure closer to two million.

There were also anti-war gatherings in Glasgow and Belfast - all part of a worldwide weekend of protest with hundreds of rallies and marches in up to 60 countries.
In February, 2003, Patrick Tyler, writing in the New York Times, said that "there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

Now, it could be argued that these protests weren't discussed because they weren't effective. The Tea Party, while never having the numbers, received mainstream clout when candidates it supported stormed the Republican Party in the mid-term elections last Fall. Nothing succeeds like success, as the old saying goes, and the anti-war protests failed miserably, as we are not only still in Iraq and Afghanistan, but have added Libya and Yemen to the list.

These protest marches were singular events, historic. Massive demonstrations world-wide, with millions of people around the globe shouting against an invasion of Iraq. They disappeared, by and large, from mainstream discourse, at least in the US, because it was clear for months the Bush Administration was determined to go to war, regardless of cost or consequences. Focusing on the demonstrations distracted from the real story, it seems.

Even though the marches didn't change the course of policy, they did show that there is power in grassroots organizing, that the interconnections among thousands of small, local groups, churches, union locals, and other groups can actually generate a huge mass of support, with millions in cities here and around the globe demanding an end to the preparations for war. Unlike the Tea Party, there were no business executives tossing around seed money, or Washington lobbyists or former Congress members to set up new firms that claimed to represent various local interests. It was just people hitting the streets.

So, yeah, it can happen. Personally, I wonder if mass marches and protests against US austerity imposed by the "super-committee" would be noticed in the mainstream press, unless they turned violent. We in the US love our peaceful protesters. When rocks and bottles and tear gas start flying, good liberals click their tongues and wish people would act more civilized, with more restraint. Funny, though; we never click our tongues over the lack of restraint on the part of the powers-that-be that strip people of their jobs, their incomes, their homes, and their hope. Let us believe it is possible for us Americans to get out there and actually get our voices heard. I do hope we are more effective than those massive marches against the invasion of Iraq, and more sensible and sane than the Tea Party, but unafraid to show our rage and frustration.

Virtual Tin Cup

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