>UNITY OF PURPOSE: Protests Need to Come Together
>There's a Glimmer of Hope Despite a Messy Message
>Jason Sokol is a freelance writer. He is a graduate student
>in history at Berkeley.
>Found at TomPaine.com
> >From Seattle in November and Washington, D.C., in April to
>Philadelphia and Los Angeles over the past three weeks,
>protesters have established a prominent presence in less
>than a year. Among them are idealists who scale buildings
>and activists who flaunt giant puppets. Their goals can seem
>visionary or nebulous, all-encompassing or vague, at once
>heartening and frustrating. But amidst the numerous police
>officers baited, automobiles stopped, and bigwigs confounded,
>one can see the outlines of a formidable movement bubbling to
>To this writer, who identifies himself in the same generation
>as these young protesters, their plight teems with hope while
>abounding with problems. Four major protests (with a fifth
>coming in October) in ten months is a substantial amount, and
>the demonstrators are striking at issues of profound import.
>Wealth and power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of
>the few, whose grips extend out beyond the business world and
>into the realms of politics, media, and everyday life. Meanwhile,
>millions of impoverished and powerless people persist in this
>land brimming with opulence. But the protesters have some
>significant hurdles to surmount in order for this movement they
>have forged to touch large masses of people. Namely, they must
>unify around one or two main issues. And they must show themselves
>as more committed to the social change some of them so desperately
>want than to the cheap thrill of protest by which others of them
>Too many in their crowd protest either everything or nothing. One
>website pledges to "celebrate and renew our resistance to corporate
>globalization, militarism, poverty, starvation, campaign finance
>corruption, sexism, racism, homo/trans-phobia, criminalization of
>youth, environmental destruction, prison industrial complex,
>genocide." The Berkeley-based Ruckus Society has participated in
>nearly every major American and Canadian protest in recent years.
>It has led training camps for the convention protests, and is a
>force to be reckoned with in the streets. Many wish to eradicate
>all social ills, and will gladly link arms in the name of whatever
>issues seem to be the hallmark of that particular day. On the other
>end of the spectrum, some seem to be in it just for the fun --
>ruckus for its own sake, neither politics nor sport nor theater,
>but some crude amalgam. Their only objective becomes to goad the
>police into doing something abusive. On closer inspection, these
>two ends of the spectrum may come around and meet one another at
>some point in the not too distant future, the lines between
>protesting everything and protesting nothing perilously blurred.
>For we are the types of creatures who draw lines, who decide what
>is worthy of our time, energy, and spirit. And if almost every
>mass demonstration can be joined, what cannot?
>In a social movement, unity of purpose is of paramount importance.
>People who congregate together may come from very different
>perspectives, may be mobilized by many different forces -- but
>when they resolve to change their world, nation, city, or town,
>they are most effective when rallying behind a distinct goal.
>Thousands of people yelling thousands of slogans (which may well
>be related) rarely act as an engine to transform much of anything.
>To many Americans, the protests in Los Angeles and Philadelphia
>conjure up images of the 1968 Democratic Convention -- the "siege
>of Chicago," presided over by Mayor Richard Daley. Here the mantra,
>"the whole world is watching!" was born. Police smashed skulls and
>unleashed tear gas on protesters and journalists alike.
>In a year that witnessed the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of
>Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, the Prague Spring and
>student revolts in Europe, a palpable sense pervaded America that
>something epic was taking place. The battle -- between those for
>Vietnam and those against; the young and old; those who controlled
>the system and those who wished to overturn it -- came to a head in
>Chicago. "History for once should take place ... on the center of
>the stage," Norman Mailer wrote in Miami and during the Siege of
>Chicago, "as if each side had said, 'Here we will have our battle.'"
>As Mailer observed police savagely beating protesters, gassing and
>macing them, he "could not make the essential connection between
>that [getting brutalized] and Vietnam." Not, of course, until Mailer
>himself became involved in the protest; until he spoke out against
>the police, and along with thousands of others, suffered their wrath.
>Today, there is a similar "essential connection" that must be made
>between the asphyxiating grip of global conglomerates and the protests
>in the streets. The struggle must be dramatized, the issue illuminated
>for all to see. The protesters in 1968 had one issue -- Vietnam --
>championed by all, an issue debated at the Democratic convention, a
>war brought terrifyingly home in the form of young men in body bags.
>Vietnam assumed paramount importance, and it mobilized a generation.
>Nobody rebelled against a catalog of ills; nobody seemed willing to
>take a blow to the skull for the thrill of it. Their issue was
>defined, and their protest gained the gaze of the nation.
>Eerie similarities exist, nonetheless, between conventions past and
>present. New Democrats stood atop the Staples Center and lauded the
>L.A. police's rubber bullets, arrests, and squelching of dissent in
>the streets. This image is not unlike that of the Humphrey Democrats
>occupying upper-floors of the Chicago Hilton, being treated like
>kings in Daley's city, while many more were beaten in the streets.
>Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the 2000 Democratic convention committee,
>remarked, "It's been fine. ... L.A.'s put on a great show." The same
>arrogance is in evidence, the same endorsement of "order" in the face
>of gross civil liberties violations, the same condemnation of those
>who dare to criticize the powerful. What Mailer wrote about those in
>power in 1968 resonates today. He assumed the voice of the powerful,
>speaking of those without it: "let them [the protesters] realize that
>the power is implacable, and will beat and crush and imprison ...
>before it will ever relinquish the power. ...There are more cowards
>alive than the brave. Otherwise we would not be where we are." The
>current fight, once again, is of the powerful against the powerless --
>those who wish to dictate reality against those who would seize
>control of their own lives and choices. But the larger fight must
>gain its bearings in some more tangible -- though no less meaningful --
>In the 1960s, those who fought "the system" seemed to lose. Those who
>fought Vietnam and Jim Crow scored large triumphs. No doubt, many who
>struggled in the civil rights and anti-war movements thought America
>needed large-scale changes; many of them advocated revolution. But
>when thousands marched in Southern cities for the dignity of blacks,
>when many took to the Mall for women's rights and against Vietnam,
>they spoke for one issue at a time. This is what today's protesters
>need to do. Their initial goal could be "restoring government to the
>people" or "regaining control of our democracy." They could take up
>the words of Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, who
>criticized the World Bank and International Monetary Fund while
>looking ahead to their September summit in Prague. International
>development organizations "should listen more to the voices of the
>people," he said, and issues of poverty "must be solved taking into
>account the human dimension, and not just the interests of investors."
>The Seattle protest galvanized much support in part because many were
>there for the same ostensible reason -- to oppose the autocratic
>World Trade Organization. A little skull-bashing on the part of the
>police, of course, greatly dramatized their cause. But in the months
>since that one shocking protest, many more demonstrators have
>expanded the agenda. They all deserve their days in the sun -- so
>let us start by attempting to define and deal with these issues one
>at a time.
>In Mailer's monologue, the cowards outnumbered the brave. Those in
>power preyed upon this cowardice to maintain their power. The many
>protests waged over the past year send a strong message to those who
>would perpetuate the status quo by subjugating democracy and equality:
>the brave in fact outnumber the pusillanimous. Finding enough people
>willing to put their bodies on the line for their ideals is usually
>the difficult part. The protesters of my generation lack but the
>elucidation of a common purpose. Once we have found our Vietnam, our
>Jim Crow, once that unity of purpose is achieved, the tenuous edifice
>of power erected with the help of the cowardly may begin to wobble.
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