Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking It Off the Streets

Walter Russell Mead on The Vain And Empty Rituals Of Protest On The Streets:

There are places where protests are still news. When throngs of people defy dictatorial rulers, something is happening. As the world waits to see whether soldiers will gun the demonstrators down in the streets or break ranks and join them, news is being made. Here in China, there is a surprising degree of concern — from people connected to the government — about the possibility that OWS style protests could spread to the PRC. Ironically, the OWS protesters who have the biggest impact could be thousands of miles away from New York. But protests in non-democratic countries matter more than in democratic ones. When people are angry, frustrated and/or idealistic and hopeful enough to put their lives on the line in support of political change, this matters.

In America, probably fortunately, protest is so widespread and cost free that no particular protest means anything much. 500,000 people can march through Washington DC to protest Roe vs. Wade; no laws change, no judges change their minds, no politicians (not running for the GOP nomination) change their stands. Ditto “million man” and “million mom” marches.

Perhaps, like the Tea Party, the OWS folks will go on to become a potent force in politics — though to do they will have to develop a clarity and purpose of outlook that is still lacking. If so, the OWS protests will be remembered as the launching pad of a political movement, but the action will have to leave the streets to produce change. Signing nominating petitions, raising money, launching websites, turning out caucus and primary voters, attending local government meetings: that is what makes change, not living in squalor or even making love in the park, not getting arrested in acts of civil (or uncivil) disobedience.