When Protests Go Terribly Wrong (Strong Language)

Last Wednesday, November 8th, thousands of people in New York attended an Anti-Trump rally to “scream at the sky” to mark the one year anniversary of the nightmare of the 2016 election that gave us President Donald Trump.  So they gathered with signs and songs and screamed helplessly at the sky.  And the world thought it was funny.


Conservative media especially.  They sent out reporters to laugh and mock them as they screamed at the sky and pounded bongo drums.  The crowd was a mixture of folks who look as though they could have mistaken the gathering for a Grateful Dead concert or a Last Poets reunion- with an ivory tower dweller mixed in here and there.  There was definitely an air of Berkeley, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan liberal intelligentsia to Washington Square Park that afternoon.  And they screamed their sorrows to the sky above.  Some even wept.  Honestly some of the people looked legitimately relieved by the screaming and happy to be there amongst those who felt their pain.  And as a committed progressive with a pragmatic and pugilistic predisposition that concerns me deeply.


I understand that these are difficult days but progressives need to pull ourselves together.  We evidently did not recognize that when we elected Barack Obama to two terms as President of the United States we were no longer allowed to behave like a protest movement.  We outgrew that status and it was time our old identity of being  a protest movement gave way to being an identifiable group that both expects and demands a seat at the table.  In fact, based on our record, we don’t need to just be at the table, we should be at the head of the table.  We can see clearly that conservatives cannot govern worth a damn, but we have proven we can.  So when we are out of power, protesting and asking the powers that be for change is one view but the better view is focused on reclaiming the reigns of power so we can just make the changes that need to be made ourselves.

Barack Obama was the idealistic community organizer that marched the long and windy road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the longest of odds.  He was and still is our champion.


Accordingly, if any of us need to protest, we should do so with an eye toward  how our actions can put us back in power.  What is the next-day take-away?  We have that kind of juice now and we need to act like it.

I do not expect protests to be perfect because human beings are not.  But if we want them to matter, they have to be constructive and directed.  Screaming and crying is neither.  And if those who oppose us are amused by our protest and titillated and giddy by our angst we should reconsider the message we are sending them.  I don’t like being laughed at and I wasn’t in Washington Square screaming at the sky.  But I find common cause with those that were and I would have paid fifty grand on a payment plan to be turned loose on the set of Fox And Friends the next morning with a baseball bat to wipe those f*cking smarmy smiles and smart-aleck smirks off of their f*cking faces.  Now I am not advocating protest by “Lucile” style Louisville Slugger but our passion and determination should hits just as hard.


And if we really want to hit hard with street political activism, we must remember that protests are supposed to disrupt the status quo and force larger society to pay attention to your concerns and take action to address them.  A lot of what is going on in progressive street politics right now resembles performance art more than protests.  I am questioning neither the hearts nor heads of the protesters, only challenging the effectiveness.

Many who claim to be just challenging are in fact trying to discourage protests altogether.  All of those people are enemies to the cause and are too blinded by arrogance to realize that we see through their jive ass like glass.  That’s not where I am coming from.  I want Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street and #MeToo to have lasting and positive effects- but I want them to maximize their impact and not back into it.  The jury is still out so let’s keep hope alive.


There should be people from all of those protest movements in Congress within the next two years if they do it right.

Ideally, formal protests should be designed, directed and executed so that they can evolve into a part of governance.  Of course that rests heavily on the ideal that America is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  The life and legacy of Congressman and national treasure John Lewis is so noteworthy in our cultural history because of how perfectly his journey encapsulates that ideal.

Whether what we see going on today could produce another John Lewis remains to be seen but were I a betting man I would probably take a pass on that possibility.  But that is ok.  We may not need that level of heroism and self-sacrifice today.  Building on his and his contemporaries’ could be enough- so long as we do more than just scream and cry- and our opponents have nothing to laugh about.

∞ π

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