[sixties-l] Fwd: Protests Need to Come Together

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Aug 31 2000 - 17:53:35 CUT

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    >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
    >the surface.
    >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
    >seem bewitched.
    >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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