The Future of Protest

Miners Strike 84/85, UK
Miners Strike 84/85, UK

I arrived back in New Jersey, state of my birth, to find a state filled with money problems and political impasses. Budget cuts, layoffs, and closed down businesses is what I hear much about. Frustration and anger, with politics as well as the economy, are easy to spot if you can get anyone to talk about the state of the state.

Down in Washington DC, where I will soon be, they are preparing to hold a Rally to Restore Sanity hosted by the very funny and intelligent John Stewart. Apparently this rally is in response to one held by conservative fans of Glenn Beck, the popular Fox News tv personality.  Thousands upon thousands of people gathering on the national mall, as many have before, to express their opinions related to politics and the state of the nation.

Then I look over at France and the ongoing strikes against cuts and reforms of the pension system, as well as against the French President himself, who’s popularity has plummeted.

And so it goes in this era of western democracies. Politics and economics have failed the average citizen, so the average citizen does what he/she learned our ancestors did; protest, demonstrate, strike, rally. The goal is to get the results that many movements from the past managed to get – change.

Yet watching students walk out of classes in New Jersey. Hearing about rallies in the heart of the US capital. Reading about strike after strike after strike in Paris and throughout France. Listening to the sounds of Greek demonstrations on the radio. So much energy, so much anger, so much struggle… yet measuring the impact of these activities seems harder then it has ever been.

Governments set up a designated area for your protests. Leaders drive away from the area where there is a rally.  Commuters wait for transport strikes to end and get right back on the train with little regard for what the strike was about.

My question and my point with bringing all this up is not to say that strikes are wrong or futile. My question is are strikes enough in an era where they are as easily ignored as they are initiated.  Is there not some new twist or tactic that is missing from the traditional demonstration that indeed in the past has served as the best tool to make the demands of a social movement known. I look at the struggles and the victories of the past, I look at the frustration and demands of the present, and I wonder how (and if!) we can be more effective for the future.