Sunday, July 25, 2004


I got a bunch of shit last week over the settlement in New York, curbing the NYPD's search and siezure policy toward protesters and my stand on the situation:

Sorry, Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Bush, this is still NYC, the most diverse city in the world. We also don't put up with police state bullshit. You had to have your convention here? Well then, you'll have to put up with us. New Yorkers don't roll over because some village idiot from Texas tells us to.

Atrios sums up my feelings succinctly in his post this morning:


Unsurprisingly, I'm not a fan of the measures being taken against protesters at the convention. But, having said that, I really think that protesting conventions is rather silly (either the RNC or the DNC). Note I'm of course not questioning anyone's right to do so. But, both in terms of what protesters hope to achieve and what the message of protesting itself I really don't understand why the conventions are appropriate targets.

Conventions, though largely for show, are still a piece of the electoral process in this country. Protesting them, to me, is a bit like protesting polling places. No, they're not the same thing, but still conventions seem like an odd target for protests.

More generally, there is the question of whether street protest is really worth the time money and energy of those involved. It's a bit different in other countries, where public spaces are much more integrated with daily life, and protests can be much more visible and effective. But, in the US even when protest are allowed to operate on prime real estate, the fact that public spaces are for the most part already on the edges of daily life, protests and protesters are intrinsically marginalized, even when they aren't happening behind razowire in pens.

So, am I saying there should never be protests? Of course not. Protests serve a few purposes - to rally people around a cause and educate them, to bring attention to an issue, and, ultimately, to perhaps to affect some sort of change. But, given that protesting in this country almost by its nature marginalizes an issue by portraying it as something which is out of the mainstream, one has to ask whether the costs are greater than the benefits.

I thought the anti-war protests were highly appropriate precisely because there was a huge disconnect between public opinion before the war (with support for Bush's war, at best, garnering a slim majority of support), and the range of viewpoints presented by the media on the subject. The "anti-this-war" view, despite having broad support in the country, had been marginalized by the mainstream media. Mass protest was, therefore, a last resort way of getting the message out, of trying to remind the country and the media that the war did not actually have the universal support they were pretending it did.

But, having said all of that, the right to stand on a public street corner and hold up a sign should be a right which is given far more respect and protection than it currently is. Security efforts which are there to discourage people from doing so are incredibly un-American. And, therefore, perhaps protesting in these cases serves another purpose - to try to reassert the right of protest itself.[my emphasis]

Yes, this is still America. And once again I'll paraphrase Ben Franklin:

Men who willingly give up their freedom for security, deserve neither freedom nor security.

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