July 7, 2010

The Two Things You Never, Ever Want To Hear About A Protest [Updated]

In thinking about the United States Social Forum (about which I am quite positive, incidentally, as the FotM piece I wrote on it reflects), I was reminded that I have intended to write this point up for a good long time. That's because left groups have been making and publicizing bullshit smiley-face summations of their demonstrations, forums, conferences, campaigns, etc. for a good long time.

So here’s a quick translation of the two lines I most dread seeing in any sum-up.

1. "It was small but spirited." Translation: It was small.

2. "It was good that we did it." Translation: Boy, that sure burned a lot of resources for not much return.

Don't even get me started on inflated crowd counts.

Yes, sometimes things are small and have good spirit. Yes, sometimes it's worth having put a lot of energy into something with little evident payoff. But it is never good to lie to ourselves and to the people we work with.

I will close with a quote from Amilcar Cabral, the great Guinean revolutionary and agronomist, but not before urging you, dear reader, to chip in your thoughts and pet peeves in this department.

Tell No Lies...Claim No Easy Victories.


[For those who don't usually read comments on blogs, Isaac S's stands out, and in worthy company.]

You also never want to hear a weather report in the context of a demonstration or meeting:

"Despite the threat of rain, a small but spirited crowd..."

"Even though it was a beautiful day outside, the room was nearly packed to hear...."


Unknown said...

You also never want to hear a weather report in the context of a demonstration or meeting:

"Despite the threat of rain, a small but spirited crowd..."

"Even though it was a beautiful day outside, the room was nearly packed to hear...."

Diana Balot Frank said...

I understand what you're saying, but Barry and I have tried to get involved over the years...no we have been involved in everything from Barry in Taxi Rank and File, to the Venceremos Brigade to the RU and the RCP and me from the Girl Scouts, to the Candy Stripers to the RSB and then Coalition for A United Elizabeth, S.A.N.E., N.O.W. when we moved to PA becasue of the abortion issue, then the Lehigh Pocono Committee for Concern(pacifist, protestant, pot luck, left) The Left Greens,The Columbus Quincentenary, The fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal...I mean we do try, but I like to go to demonstrations. I don't care how small they are. I am disappointed of course-especially after 9/11. That was supposed to be a big one and that was when I realized I guess that we don't have much of a left in America if people couldn't continue the anti-globalization/anti-imperialism movement after the World Trade Center was demolished. I do not look forward to sitting in another meeting, coming to a conclusion and next week new people arrive and we do the same thing all over again. At the last demo we went to in Washington (March 20), there were some black people (our age) carrying a sign that said, "Obama we still love you but" stop the war or something like that. There were 6 or 7 people from the Lehigh Valley VFP chapter-not enough interest for a bus. The problem isn't the description of the too small crowd. The problem is that, well I think a lot of the anti-Vietnam war movement went home to their nice middle class lives and Vietnam was an aberration to them because they were the ones who might have been called on to die. I am interested in the concept Michael Moore explored in "Capitalism: A Love Story." He profiled 2 cooperatives. I think that's the way forward. We have all we need to at least make an attempt to work at providing each other with what we need to survive during this special period. Going to the IAC demonstrations gives us a little boost and makes us feel less isolated not matter how small they are. We read and we go to demonstrations and I write letters to the editor and other people. That's all I can do right now. I appreciate the effort they make to do Mayday for instance. The lack of white/union presence was shameful but I was glad I went.

Rahim on the Docks said...

Inflated numbers is the feature of many "demonstration report-backs" that angers me the most.

A successful rally, picket-line, or other action is nearly guaranteed to be played-down or go without report at all in the class-enemy's media.

Fact is that many of our assumed allies may also downplay successful rallies for a number of reasons. And when that happens, it's not simply jealousy. Often there are serious disagreements over our plans or analysis that we didn't take into account when trying to build unity for the demonstration. If it's not going to be a one-shot-deal, if we hope to build an ongoing campaign, we will need to reach out and understand why people are "badmouthing" what we feel was a success.

Both of the types of naysaying indicate the truth of Cabral's reasoning. The racists, the capitalists, and their newsmedia have a louder voice than we do. Any if our allies (actual or hoped for) think we're lying, we will never build a movement, a popular front, of any unity in the struggle…

Anonymous said...

One to add: I hate seeing that Cabral quote in the signature line of an email from an NGO which is either telling lies or claiming easy victories.

Still, great post!