The Problem with Protesting

Yes, I was one of them. ‘Back in the day’ circa 2001 I was one of those protesters. No, not the violent/burn stuff/anarchist type. Just the plain old regular sign carrying protester. My protest of choice? The Anti-War protests re: Afghanistan and Iraq. I was studying political science and was fairly left leaning in my beliefs (I have centered significantly), so participation was practically mandatory. So we marched around Vancouver, chanting our anti-war chants. That phase didn’t last long.

So when Twitter went nuts with the tweets about the protests in Toronto around the G20 sumitt and I started to see tweets like this (see below), it got me thinking.

“Ok so all I know is that the protesters are violence loving thugs but exactly what are they protesting about again? #protesterfail #G20″ (@KarinaTano)

“Is anyone reporting on what is actually being protested in Toronto? Please, oh please make it a good reason. Why do I fear otherwise? #g20″ @JamesStorm

I don’t agree that all the protesters are violent thugs (though certainly there were a small contingency of ‘protesters’ that fall into that category) nor to I agree that the protesters had no good reasons to protest. But what I think these tweets point to is the #1 problem with protesting. Amongst all the chanting and marching and sign waving- no one knows what the heck you are trying to say.

The messages actually being presented by your average protest march are incredible diverse. You have everything from “Save the Whales” to “Vote for the Communist Party” to “Beware of Snakes!” Okay, probably not the last one, but you get my point. Protests are full of static; a few good clear points lost in a sea of fringe ideas and demands. Things that the majority of the public would never go for. Protesters don’t offer a clear vision of the alternative, they are just railing against the current situation.

So do I think the police should arrest peaceful protesters? No. Not at all. I support the right of people to go out to the streets and say what they need to say. I know there is a lot of disagreement out there on whether or not the police have acted with excessive force to the G20 Protests in Toronto this last weekend. I wasn’t there, so I will leave that to others to judge. But IF there was excessive force, shame on the police. It seems pretty clear there were some ‘protesters’ who were violent and destructive and shame on them.

Back to my point; the messages of the protesters are negative. They are not about positive solutions or positive suggestions. They are over dramatizations and exaggerations of the issue. And their negativity has nothing to offer, because the message is being offered without a clear suggestion of the solutions needed. And this, to me, is true of so many situations where strong negative messaging alienates people from the discussion more then it gets people on side. We hear so much negative, it starts to get tuned out. Everywhere we turn ‘the sky is falling.’ And yet, the sky seems to still be up there and so we don’t really trust the dire messages we hear.

Now I know what you are thinking, ‘but doesn’t negative messaging in the case of political advertising work? and that’s a negative message that people listen to.’ Sure, yes, for that campaign it might work. But have you seen the recent percentages for how many people vote in the national election in Canada? It is abysmal. I think a big part of this is because there is so much negativity and so little debate on the real issues, that people of tuned out politics as irrelevant.

If we want to influence people to make better health choices, or protect the environment or vote for a more progressive government, or whatever it was the G20 protesters wanted, we need positive messages and positive solutions. We need to focus on advocating for better public policy. Policies that people can really get behind. Clear, coherent and focused messages. So sure, yeah, protest if you want. But if you really want to advocate for a change, consider other ways to get your message across. Because most of us have no idea what your message is.


3 responses to “The Problem with Protesting

  1. Perpetua July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I hear you. The one thing that drives me crazy, especially about the G20 protests, is that they try to cover SO many bases. They end up looking nutty and getting no respect even though what they have to say is quite important.

    And I bet the voter rates are better in Canada than they are down here in the U.S. 😦

    • amoment2think July 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm

      I agree. I also get frustrated at the media covering protests. They seem to pick out the nutty inarticulate people and ask them what they are protesting about. Then it paints to whole group as nutty and having no idea what they are talking about.

      I don’t know the exact rates for voter turnout, but I think actually the US has been a couple percentages higher then Canada in recent elections (*cough cough Obama*).

  2. Partial July 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Living in the land of protests, San Francisco, I realized long ago that protesting here was really an extreme version of preaching to the choir. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what effects change, and I’ve come to the conclusion that jest, parody and absurdism works better than attending any action committee meetings. Look at The Daily Show for chrissakes. You catch more flies with honey.

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