Politics as Unusual?

Not much time here, but I just finished an article in the WaPo which gives me a little hope for our socio-cultural future.

Enjoy. As such...
Where Have All the Protests Gone?
By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008; Page C01

... (T)here are those who say that most political agitation today isn't on the Web or on campuses. The action now, according to Daniel May, who once worked for the Service Employees International Union, is all door to door. They're raising money, they're getting out the vote.

"The organizers of my generation were shaped by 1968," said May, who is working toward a master's degree from Harvard. "But one lesson is that 1968 marked the first year of 40 years of conservative rule. Why would we want to replicate that? There's a real limit to protest politics. It's politics as catharsis and that eventually leads to cynicism."

It would be a mistake, in May's estimation, to confuse the lack of effigies with a lack of passion. The kids who once marched are now trying a different approach, he said, using techniques that were dismissed by their parents as too establishment. May's mother, Elaine Tyler May, a historian at the University of Minnesota, says she used to think that the youth of today just couldn't be bothered. But she has changed her mind.

"My son tells me it's politics that's more interested in power than in protest, and on a good day, that's how I see it," she said. "I still have this impulse to go yelling in the street, but what I see my kids doing is far more effective. I think we're just old and we don't realize -- there's a groundswell of political engagement that we just don't see."

[Different rhymes for different times, eh...]


  1. "...forty years of conservative rule..." is a simplistic analysis.

    Vigorous protests in the streets have always called public attention to injustice, and started the wheels turning toward correction. Ghandi might dispute the thesis that protest is ineffective. And in the U.S., street protests were the hallmark of the Civil Rights Movement, which, if you'll check your history, had a salutary effect on American life. And not to go on and on about this, but who knows when the Vietnam war would have ended had Americans not taken to the streets to let our government know that we were not going to take it any more?

    When you write a feature story like this one in WaPo, you have to have an "angle," a perspective lens through which to present your topic. David Segal chose the wrong one.

  2. I agree with Larry.

    Certainly organizing door to door is valuable but large numbers of people protesting tends to gather quick attention... you might get the beatings of 60s Chicago or the fire hoses of 60s Mississippi but protesting puts a huge magnifying glass on issues.

    Authority responds to very few things... peaceful door to door stuff hardly warrants their attention - and they know how to counteract the door to door stuff - flood the world with their lies and half truths. Counterpointing a massive demonstration is much more difficult - hence the often violent reaction of authority. And in the crucible of demonstrations change is often the result.

  3. I agree with both of you. As was made a point in the last post, though, the diminution of one thing doesn't negate it entirely by any means.

    My take on the post - though I do see where y'all are coming from - is that the more folks who ACTUALLY VOTE AND TALK ABOUT POLITICS there are, the less need for radical expressions of anger and discontent via protest marches.

    Of course, we need A LOT MORE FOLKS taking that daily, routine interest. Certainly a lot more than do so as a matter of course in their daily lives.

    Progress in wee chunks over centuries, eh. That's where the hope comes in pour moi.


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