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Friday, October 02, 2009


I'd say this is largely true, but one confounding factor is that we're now eight years into the war, with lots of evidence that street protests aren't effective in changing government policy. Sure, there are people who won't protest because it's a Democrat doing the killing, but there are also a lot of people who won't protest because they see protest as a waste of time (I think this view is especially prevalent among young people.)

So I don't think the main problem is that people are "much more content with killing Afghans now that such an articulate and personable Democrat is calling the shots." They may be very discontented, but don't know what to do about it.

Hey, SteveB. I dunno, I think your right about the disillusionment, but wouldn't venture to say which is worse. Maybe the disillusionment problem is disillusioning, and the "okay with killing as long as it's us" problem is sickening and disillusioning.

"Much more content" was actually intended generally—I shouldn't have tied it only to Afghanistan. Also, I'd say the discontented-yet-confounded are much more often part of the first group, not the second, though it's not a hard line. But the discontented-yet-confounded in the second group are also likely to be those who believe that Obama's heart is in the right place, that he's killing Afghans and Pakistanis only with great reluctance, that he'll do everything in his power to end the war, and that showing public opposition would be pointless (since he's on our side already) and would just strengthen the Republicans' hands.

It's also true that the big protests of the past few years were for Iraq and not Afghanistan, so it's not a direct comparison (though again, in San Francisco the smallest protest against the attack on Afghanistan was larger than the largest protest against any Clintonian military adventure).

The real test will be what happens if Obama follows through on his bellicose rhetoric toward Iran...and I won't buy any excuses about disillusionment if it comes to that point.

I'm not sure I get the "disillusionment" thing. Are people only disillusioned, and therefore unwilling to protest, when a Democrat is in the White House? They seem to have gotten over their disillusionment pretty fast when Clinton was out, and Bush was in. That might say something even worse about the Democrats than John meant to say.

Well, obviously there are a mix of reasons why people don't come out to protests, but my main point is that the peace movement keeps offering up the same tactic (mass marches), and it's a tactic that most people don't think is effective, so whose fault is it if people don't participate? Or, to put things more constructively, which, of the many reasons people have for not participating do we have some control over?

I agree with Steve--I've been to most of the protests in SF during the Bush years, and except for the one in 3/03, none have succeeded in bringing out anybody not on the far left. Part of this is the organizer's fault--ANSWER-sponsored rallies tend to be unfocused, with a lot of speakers screaming at the crowd about a variety of topics from Mumia to 9/11 truth. Not the kind of thing that's going to convert anybody who's on the fence, or even something that will build solidarity or connections among anti-war people.

The more successful rallies in SF have been around issues that we can put on the ballot--unfortunately, passing a local or statewide proposition against the war won't have any effect.

...unfortunately, passing a local or statewide proposition against the war won't have any effect.

I think all of the most exciting work in the peace movement now is on local or state-level initiatives that will have an effect. Like this, for example, or the many successful efforts to limit military recruiters' access to schools.

None of these things is going to end the war, of course (and neither is the "flooding the halls of Congress" that Medea Benjamin wants to do) but they are having some success, and demonstrating an ability to think creatively, instead of endlessly repeating tired tactics that aren't working.

I'd definitely agree with you about ANSWER's self-inflicted wounds, JMC. But as you say, that's just part of the problem, and even if ANSWER staged an entirely focused and non-scary (to mainstream human beings) protest I don't think it would make much difference in the dynamic I'm talking about here. Most of those people weren't out there protesting war, they were out there protesting George Bush (who was about to wage war). There's a big difference.

Also, though the March 2003 protests were the biggest I wouldn't say they were just a one off—there were still a lot of not-usual-suspects at subsequent protests, though the numbers did steadily dwindle.

Steve, mass protests didn't suddenly stop working for some reason; I think a lot of people just have mistaken notions about what they're for, what they can achieve, what it takes to make them effective, how to judge if they actually were effective, and so on. But I'll save that for a different posting.

But I'll save that for a different posting.

Thanks, I look forward to reading that. For now, I'll just say that I don't think there was anything "sudden" about the sense that mass protest was ineffective. The largest protest UFPJ was able to do in D.C, more than half a million people, came after the Democrats took control of Congress (in Feb. 2007, after the 2006 elections.) That was a crowd of (mostly) liberal Democrats turning out to make demands of a Democratic Congress, largely because they thought the Democrats were more likely to listen to them. Then war funding passed anyway, and that was pretty much the end of mass protest as a tactic. It still has a role purely as a means of self-expression, when people are outraged enough, but outrage fades quickly and needs higher and higher dosages to be motivating.

By the way, I completely agree with you that "people just have mistaken notions about what [mass protests are] for, what they can achieve, what it takes to make them effective, how to judge if they actually were effective, and so on." When I was on the UFPJ board, I used to push for them to do more education of our members on how social movements work, but this never happened because lobbying Congress and planning the next mass protest were always considered more urgent. On this question, I'm a big fan of Bill Moyer; have you read Doing Democracy?

That was a crowd of (mostly) liberal Democrats turning out to make demands of a Democratic Congress...

I'd say that was a crowd mostly turning out to protest George Bush (who was still waging war in Iraq). In a few weeks we'll see how many people are willing to protest the exact same wars under a Democratic president—whom they elected because they felt that he shares their beliefs and cares about what they think, and who even told them he wants them to put pressure on him. I don't doubt that anti-Republican-war activists will stay home in droves, though I'm hopeful that the numbers of genuine anti-war activists will have increased over the past few months.

And nope, still haven't read Doing Democracy.

what no one seems to realize is that there are also so many people who are benefitting from the mayhem...look at this:

The groups of people below will try to delegitimize US and try to stop US from finding out more truth or from speaking the truth about runaway government and it's military arms. Keep in mind that the people shown below are at various stages of recognition about the process and their hostility towards those of US who do speak this truth will vary tremendously. However, the great majority of people who are in any of the categories are learning more about what needs to be done to protect their positions and as such, will be at an ever-increasing stage of antagonism towards those who speak truth :

1) city, state and federal government employees;
2) pensioners/disabled (especially those faking disability);
3) government contractors (most would be surprised who shows up in the category!);
4) those people hoping to get jobs with government or a contractor;
5) many people related to any of the above;
6) others who live off government.

Remember this will tend to quell dissent in major ways.

One of the primary reasons that the above will try to stop US is financial: they’re largely invested in the system and determined to keep it going! (If the economy continues to worsen, look for these associations to form ever closer alliances for the purpose of protecting their shares of the pie! By the way, the worsening economy may also cause higher levels of desperation and since desperate people are easier to control, recruitment by these forces will be facilitated, and before you know it, a greater majority of people will be under their influence.)

If you attempt to present these ideas to any of the parties mentioned above, be sure to do it gently: many participants know not what they do!

If you are reading this note and you think (or know) we are referring to you, please be patient because one way or another, things will probably work out, it just may take some time!

From the bewilderness—thanks for coming and thanks for reading this note! Peace and Love always.

Thanks for all you do!

PS: We don’t need to repeat that these types will support higher expenditures of the treasuries o weapons of mass distraction, do we?

PPS: As of March 19, 2009, most 401Ks and similar investments are down over 40%. What lengths do you suppose the average person who suffered a loss will go to in order to get that money back? In other words, since the parties named above are invested in the system to some extent, the only way to get them on our side is to convince them to divest, and since they’re already down 40% or more, they aren’t likely to do so

From the bewilderness- thanks for coming!

James Mansfield
305 West 28th Street#7G
NYC 10001
[email protected]

I'd say that was a crowd mostly turning out to protest George Bush

Well, it was some of both, but the reason I say the crowd was "turning out to make demands of a Democratic Congress" was because that particular protest was very closely tied to a legislative campaign built on a demand that Congress use its "power of the purse" to end the war. In fact, the march route was selected to surround Congress and not the White House for that very reason. And I know that there was a lot of anger among those present directed at Nancy Pelosi for her refusal to even consider a funding cutoff. Maybe even as much anger directed at Pelosi as against Bush, although it's hard to measure these things, of course.

actually, it is almost impossible to cut off funding...the military apparatus that is in place makes the consequences for Pelosi unbearable...not to mention that those WMD can be used against anyone who opposes greater spending...and of course, go look at all of those media advertisements designed to get our attention or to attempt to scare US to death...they seem to be working in large measure...

those WMD can be used against anyone who opposes greater spending...

I'm not sure if you're serious there, is the Pentagon going to nuke San Francisco?

Although I do agree that it is is clearly impossible to cut off funding, because Congress hasn't done it and isn't going to do it. Congress is a tool for authorizing wars and for funding wars, but not for ending wars. Which is one reason why it's so depressing to see so many antiwar activists (like Medea Benjamin, above, wandering the halls of Congress and plaintively asking why there aren't more people joining her) still focusing the bulk of their energies on Congress. It's like they learned something in high school about "petitioning the government for a redress of grievances" and can't unlearn it.

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