By Jay Burseth at Sep 25, 2008
As activists and organizers, I think it’s crucial to set multiple, obtainable goals for ourselves. In doing so, we not only take small steps to creating a better world, but also motivate ourselves and keep fighting without burning out.
Protests are also important within organizing, but it should not be the only route of activity. Protests should be used to rally around a goal but unfortunately, they’re often carried out without desired results and no way to obtain an end goal. One example of this is the current state of anti-war protests. While they rose in popularity in the 1960’s, anti-war protests have since faded with an occasional success story. There are many reasons for this and I will focus on a few.
One thing I’ve observed with the youth today is not that they’re a generation of idiots or people who have no idea what’s going on (in fact, I believe the opposite to be true), but a generation that feels helpless and un-empowered. It’s a generation that isn’t necessarily apathetic, but simply wondering “what can I do?” with no one responding.
This is in part because much of activism and organizing has become incredibly unexciting and, in a sense, pointless. Whiles it’s easy to fall back, how would a group with signs reading “give peace a chance” excite someone towards activism and social change? It’s crucial that we organize getting others involved, so it’s crucial that we question our actions and deliberations. And then work to correct them.
It’s our responsibility to create exciting rallies, protests, and marches that may actually be exciting. What I’ve witness in the last five years is the same thing being done repeatedly and expecting better results. Goal-less rallies with reused signs and slogans will not bring about social change nor will it inspire others to do so.
Coalitions and Diversity
Another problem within the planning of protests and actions are the use of coalitions. It must be clear that coalitions and a diversity of groups have great potential to be a source for good and is often crucial for any sort of success. But coalitions have been often used for having an image of diversity while lacking any of the benefits.
My experience with coalitions has not been as positive as I’d prefer. It has consisted of one group taking over and running the show, while the others simply go with the motions and attach their name to the action or protest, defeating the purpose of their involvement.
The intentions of coalitions should be the democratic process of multiple organizations coming together and determining the best possible action and then they all do their part of carrying it out. What I’ve witnessed with coalitions may be unique, in that maybe other coalitions have consisted of groups democratically distributing power amongst themselves, as they should be and I just haven’t seen it. But from my experience, coalitions have become an outlet for one organization to expect power over other organizations and individuals, creating a mix of groups that is neither democratic nor desired by all parties involved.
Along with the creation of a democratically ran coalition should be the acceptance of a diversity of tactics. A great thing about organizing with others is that different perspectives and different ideas come together and are executed. The Latina/o community’s perspective towards May Day is going to be different than the various unions involved. And who is to say which is more correct? The same holds true for perspectives of pacifists towards an anti-war rally in comparison to the anarchists.
No one is the all-knowning White Knight of activism. To assume that one individual or one lone group has the only necessary actions and ideas is to be playing messiah. We must abandon our in-fighting and nit-picking. Creating divisions and borders is certainly not our job and continues to be a waste of energy. It’s crucial that we create relationships not divisions, allies not enemies, communities not isolationism. We must question ourselves, but we must also be respectful and assume the best intentions.
A Need for Goals
It is common within our present society, and our generation specifically, to not be empowered by activities with far-fetched goals. This results in a lack of participation and an overall unsuccessful and pathetic action.
So it’s important to manifest a desired and obtainable goal. By doing so, the participants and organizers have something to actually organize around. For example, I have participated in and been present at many anti-war protests that simply did nothing. It is impossible to excite and inspire students at a protest at a university by just getting a good chant going. That chant might be the most powerful and witty grouping of words, but it will not a) inspire participants and b) end the war. At best, a goal-less and vague anti-war protest will simply be fun.
By setting goals with such a protest, the participants can pursue various avenues of activity. This is more common with things like union and worker strikes, but it’s a crucial element for any protest or movement. Returning to the anti-war protest example, basing such a protest around university divestment or military research at the university can make for a success with a rally, going beyond just speeches and chants.
Since the beginning of the War in Iraq in 2003, protests have dwindled. The protests against the war began with the largest protest before a war in history (10 million+ people) has now come to a point where getting a few dozen on-lookers is considered a “success”. We can no longer chant in a group and hope that it meets our ultimate goal. To do so is delusional and just silly.
After the Protest
So along with setting a goal with a protest, it’s crucial that such a protest incites activity elsewhere. Returning to the divestment example, a divestment chant or discussion at a protest will not inspire the university to withdraw investment from the military-industrial complex. So at this protest, it is the responsibility of the organizers to organize around the goal after the protest. That would entail getting the participants to do their part as it concerns divestment. (Easier said than done, I know).
This would mean having an organized plan to be carried out when the event of the protest is finished. An isolated protest has very little chance of getting anything concrete done. And whatever excitement or energy comes from a rally or march would end on the spot without a tactical approach of utilizing the energy and power.
We must work on as much as we can not just protests and rallies. But we also must not abandon such a tactic. I believe that we need to continue rallying and exciting, but organizing the former doesn’t create the latter. We are at a time in history and activism when we need to think outside the box.
We must be inspiring and exciting. We need to work for a stronger activist community and respect others involved within it. We need to have goals and tactics. We need to work to grow and grow with each other. All in order to form a more perfect movement.