Thursday, April 27, 2006

INPA... a prayer to the porcelain gods of politics

It's official. I'll Never Protest Again.* Before launching into this rant, I want to take a moment to reflect upon some personal history.

I've never been the protesting type. In college, I shot a film about protesters, and thus, I went to a number of rallies on campus, in New York, and in Washington. Up until a few weeks ago, I'd never waved a sign or shouted for so much as a team carwash without the personal and ideological buffer of a camera. Yet, there I was, newly arrived in Washington and looking to get involved with politics, when a friend invited me along for an immigration rally on the Mall. Sure, I thought, this'll be fun. I'll meet some people, chant the occasional patriotic couplet, and enjoy a nice afternoon in the sun. Oh, and I'll help support immigration, too--whatever that means.

As it turned out, the April 10th protests were a lot more positive than I'd expected from the tone of the rhetoric that had been flying around town the previous week. People stayed on message, there weren't too many crazies around, and it even became something of a family event. Moreover, according to my (more seasoned) companions, none of the usual protest-ruining suspects showed up: namely the pro-Palestine, anti-capitalist, gas-mask wearing, trust-afarian, neo-hippies who have a remarkable knack for stealing the limelight, along with the cameras, and distracting from whatever legitimate issue is in dispute. From the coverage I read in the following days, it seemed that the April 10 rallies had gone off in similar fashion around the country--with none of the distractions, violence, or outright absurdity that could have so easily come to pass.

Then, today, I read the following: "...a national boycott and marches planned for May 1 will flood U.S. streets with millions of Latinos to demand amnesty for illegal immigrants...". Anyone reading this will not need it explained why this is an actively terrible idea. It is, however, one more example of why protesting is no longer (if it ever was) a viable means of political action--sooner or later, the extremists will take over the movement and undermine whatever progress could have been made.

Perhaps this is inherent to the nature of the beast. If they say that only the very committed have the motivation to vote in primary elections, the same must be even more true of protest movements. Mainstream Americans, almost by definition, aren't going to be deeply, personally invested in an issue that drives thousands into the streets. As such, it is hard to conceive a scenario in which the sight of an angry mob of people who disagree with him would inspire the average voter to rush into the streets to join them. These things have to be done delicately, they have to be done slowly, and they have to be done in such a way as to inspire feelings of camaraderie and kinship, not alienation and antipathy. As long as the people who lead them, and the people who follow, continue to speak in terms of revolution and not reform, I will continue to sit on the sidelines.

*Without a very, very, good reason.