Tuesday, January 03, 2012

More from Phil Paine on intelligent protest

More from Phil on the limitations of current forms of activism.  An excerpt:
Protests within a func­tion­ing democ­racy are fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from  [the fall of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring]. The pro­tes­tors face no sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger. This is not to say that we should turn a blind eye to cops vio­lat­ing civil rights, strong-arming peace­ful demon­stra­tors, or the kind of trea­so­nous fraud per­pe­trated by the author­i­ties that occurred dur­ing the G-20 sum­mit in Toronto. All those respon­si­ble for these crimes against my coun­try should be pun­ished severely for them, though I know that they never will be. But there is a world of dif­fer­ence between a brief stay in a local lock-up and a court appear­ance, and fac­ing a fir­ing squad or ten years dig­ging rocks with your bare hands in a mine. Pro­test­ers in Canada do not face dan­ger great enough to clas­sify their actions as exam­ples of great courage. I’m not imply­ing that they shouldn’t engage in protest. Protest is urgently needed. But it is not help­ful or hon­est to mis­rep­re­sent its nature. 
What moti­vates real protest in a democ­racy is not phys­i­cal courage, but civic virtue....This is why I do not feel any glad­ness when pro­fes­sional pseudo-revolutionaries, con­ven­tional ide­o­log­i­cal “anar­chists” or “rad­i­cals” par­tic­i­pate in such protests, or attempt to take them over. They are there pre­cisely to val­i­date the “good guy” image of the author­i­ties, and to tor­pedo the moral legit­i­macy of the protest. They per­form exactly the same debas­ing func­tion that Islamic Fun­da­men­tal­ist groups have done for the Arab Spring. 
Within a demo­c­ra­tic polity, one finds protests occur­ring all the time, pre­cisely because a free soci­ety should be open to them, and should encour­age them. But such protests dif­fer greatly in their qual­ity. Some protests tell us lit­tle more than that some­body is angry about some­thing. Since another, equally large or influ­en­tial group may be equally angry about an oppo­site state of affairs, this sel­dom has any influ­ence on either opin­ion or pol­icy. More sophis­ti­cated protest aims at influ­enc­ing pub­lic opin­ion, by 1) mak­ing clear what is wrong about some pub­lic pol­icy; 2) putting for­ward a dif­fer­ent, pre­sum­ably bet­ter pol­icy; and 3) con­vinc­ing a broad pub­lic of the wis­dom of act­ing to this end. In a democ­racy, effec­tive protest should merely be the ini­tial step in a process cul­mi­nat­ing in real polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion and action. This action must, to be gen­uinely effec­tive, trans­late into peo­ple mark­ing x’s on bal­lots in the end. If it is merely a rit­ual, an amuse­ment, or a way of blow­ing off steam, it is not progressive.
Read the rest. 

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