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A question about protest in general...(13 posts)

A question about protest in general...TJeanloz
Mar 19, 2003 7:14 AM
I'm too young to know firsthand of the heyday of American protest-in-the-streets, but I've seen a number of lesser protests and I just don't understand what they're trying to accomplish. This morning, we had a group of (maybe 20) anti-war protesters in front of my building (which happens to be the Stock Exchange, but I highly doubt there was any symbolic value). This group of people managed to block traffic, causing a minor traffic jam (but nothing serious), before they were loaded into the paddy wagon and taken away.

But what did they think they would accomplish? They can't seriously believe that me seeing a bunch of dirty, unshaven people chanting "No blood for oil" is going to change my opinion about the war, can they? They can't seriously believe that blocking traffic is going to ingratiate themselves with the people of Boston, can they? If they want to let it be known that they're opposed to the war, wouldn't the steps of the Capitol (either State or Federal) be more appropriate than a streetcorner in Boston?

I can understand the concept of using a protest like this to get the message out ala Seattle in, I think, 1999. But its not like the war in Iraq, or opposition thereof, isn't getting any news coverage (as was the case with the globalisation issues). Or similarly, it seems that the defacing of the Sydney Opera House or similar tactic would get more press.

So, what are these people trying to accomplish?
publicity?DougSloan
Mar 19, 2003 7:25 AM
I think they merely want publicity. It works. Plus, then the population is lead to believe that there are more people who believe as the protesters do than really exist.

Or, maybe they are emotionally charged zealots who just can't help it.

Doug
Oh, it's like voting. You know one voteOldEdScott
Mar 19, 2003 7:26 AM
won't make a difference, but if everyone votes, there's a broad impact. Public opinion gets expressed in the aggregate. One little piss-ant demonstration won't do much, but a thousand little piss-ant demonstrations give the appearance of a larger movement. It takes a million raindrops to fill a well. Or whatever.

That said, being dirty and annoying people is, as you say, a less than effective tactic.
You can do something, or you can do nothing.retro
Mar 19, 2003 8:51 AM
Individually, the protests don't accomplish much. But if you believe U.S. policy is wrong and Bush has turned us into a rogue nation (and a lot of people DO genuinely believe that), what else can you do? I'm a Vietnam veteran, but also marched in protests after I came home in 1968. Over a few years, the opposition to THAT foolish war grew until it made a difference.
Jon Carroll, a columnist for the SF Chronicle, did a column today that explains some of the protesters' feelings. Here are a couple of paragraphs; you can read the whole thing at sfchronicle.com:

"There is nothing more disheartening than a peace vigil when the nation is on the brink of war. The sense of futility was strong. I stood there with my candle jammed inside a paper cup and thought about how many times peace vigils had changed the course of human events. Let's see . . . I think zero is the right number."

(and farther down the page)

"I thought about the engines of war already gearing up half a world away; I thought about the brutality of Saddam Hussein and the foolishness of George Bush and how all this posturing would almost certainly result in unimaginable carnage, with the young paying by far the highest price and the masters of war paying by far the lowest.
"And I was standing there with a damn candle."
I agree,TJeanloz
Mar 19, 2003 8:56 AM
Of course you can do something, or you can do nothing, or you can do something which is the equivilent of doing nothing. The protests of the civil rights, or Vietnam eras clearly had an impact; mostly because of their size and scope. I think attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall, or even Boston Common, would have an eventual impact on policy. But 20 guys blocking traffic in the Financial district? Are they hoping that their actions will build into something huge?
WellSpoke Wrench
Mar 19, 2003 9:19 AM
Since you brought up Viet Nam protests as having an impact. They didn't start with hundreds of thousands of people on the mall. They started with 20 people blocking traffic and being hated by almost everybody else. I used to be able to give an exact date when my own thinking about our intervention in Viet Nam changed but I don't remember the year anymore.
Didn't Vietnam protests lengthen the war?Continental
Mar 19, 2003 9:46 AM
From discussion I've heard about the Whitehouse transcripts and tapes, and from my pre-adolescent memories, I get the impression that the protests hardened the war position of both Johnson and Nixon. Even at the height of the anti-war protests, Nixon and Johnson both realized that the vast majority of voters (Nixon's silent majority) thought that the protesters were hippies, yippies, and a counter-culture threat to the American way of life. Soviet Union must have thought so too, because they provided substantial funding. I think that the end of the Vietnam war was brought about by dissensions within the military, not by outside protests.
I don't think so.Spoke Wrench
Mar 19, 2003 10:14 AM
I think that by the height of the anti-war protests, the silent majority had turned and become anti-Viet Nam. I think that through the years, the majority of people's feelings about our intervention in Viet Nam gradually changed. Some people took longer to change than others, but by the end I think the only regret anybody had was for the dead and wounded and that we might have left some POWs behind. I still mourn all of those things.
But did protests change public opinion?Continental
Mar 19, 2003 10:20 AM
Or was it body bags and news reports from the front lines?
All of the above: protests, media, lack of progress, dead kidsDale Brigham
Mar 19, 2003 11:07 AM
When my mother and father turned against the war in Vietnam, sometime between '68 and '70, I knew it was all over. For my mom, it was the treatment of the protesters in Chicago in '68 by Mayor Daly's police force that put her over the line. For my dad, it seemed to be the cumulative effect of reports by Uncle Walt (Cronkite) on the evening news that did it. It is important to note that these are Texans from farm and ranch backgrounds, strong military supporters (my brother and I were the first generation in our family to not have to go to war; we would have served, if drafted), highly religious, and socially conservative. When folks like them around the country decided that the war was a bad idea, it was just a matter of time.

Dale
I think that everything sort of snowballed all together.Spoke Wrench
Mar 19, 2003 2:00 PM
You have to remember we're talking about almost a decade in time.

In the beginning, I think that the protestors were kind of the lunatic fringe and our military involvement was pretty much limited to special forces advisors.

As time progressed, there were many changes both in Viet Nam and at home. Our military involvement became much greater. The South Vietnamese troops became less effective. There were atrocities by both sides. At home it gradually became acceptable and finally mainstream to oppose the war.

Did protests change public opinion? I think so but indirectly. Protests forced people to examine what they truely thought. Every time unfavorable news trickled in, a few more people changed their minds about the war. As each person changed their opinion, that made it easier for their friends and neighbors to make the change too.

At the time, my wife and I lived in Ames, Iowa, a university town. Our closest friends were a couple who taught English and who were among the earilest to oppose the war, and a Marine Corps Major whose job was to recruit college graduates for the Corps. Both couples had very high principles and are among the finest people I have ever met.
simple, it went on too longDougSloan
Mar 19, 2003 2:36 PM
We don't like long wars. Our preference is, if you are going to do it, get in and win fast. We weren't in Vietnam to win, so it dragged on too long. Trying to fight a war with one hand tied behind your back is stupid, and destined for failure and all the scorn that goes along with it.
re: A question about protest in general...Me Dot Org
Mar 19, 2003 2:56 PM
Most people a pre-disposed to back their country in a war. We WANT to be patriotic. There is always a hard-core group that is anti-war. But I don't think change really happens until you get a group of people energized around the issue, and that group starts to sway the middle.

When did protest change the course of the Vietnam war? It was when college students went to New Hampshire, slept in sleeping bags on living room floors, and went door-to-door for an anti-war candidate with no money and no name recognition, Eugene McCarthy. Everyone said he had no chance against a sitting president who in '64 had one of the largest landslides in history. Most pundits predicted he would get 10% or less of the vote.

He got 41%

All political people could talk about was "McCarthy's Army". An army of people (mostly students) against the war.

From that day on, both the public and the politicians knew the President was vulnerable on the war. Johnson dropped out later that spring.

If Robert Kennedy hadn't been assasinated, the history of the Vietnam War might have been different. (A wierd echo there. He was assasinated by Sirhan, Sirhan, who hated Kennedy's views on Israel.)Even with the Chicago Riots, the stand-in Humphrey almost beat Nixon and his "secret plan to win the war" (Which I think was Kissinger saying "vee bomb de sh*t out of dem while we continue the Vietnamization of the war").

So I think you mis-read the importance of protest and public opionion in war, especially a long war.